tatjana schoenmaker

Tatjana Schoenmaker and partner Joel Smith at the Ukutula Game Reserve.
Images via Instagram: @tatjanaschoen

Swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker blasted for visiting controversial wild cat reserve [photos]

Gold-medallist swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker has courted controversy after posting pics of her visit to a wild cat ‘petting zoo’…

tatjana schoenmaker

Tatjana Schoenmaker and partner Joel Smith at the Ukutula Game Reserve.
Images via Instagram: @tatjanaschoen

Olympic swimmer Tatjana Schoenmaker – who is engaged to the brother of Rachel Kolisi, Joel Smith – has courted controversy after she recently visited a big cat game reserve, which many have deemed a “canned hunting farm,”

Over the weekend, the gold medallist posted pictures of the couple’s trip to Ukutula Lodge and Game Reserve in the North West province. The pair were seen walking amongst lions and stroking cheetahs during their trip.

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In a since-deleted Instagram post, Tatjana Schoenmaker gave her followers a look at the wild cat experience.

The post featured a clip of the couple walking alongside three male lions, while being led by a guide. More pics followed of Tatjana stroking a baby cheetah and lion cub.

“Taking the cats for a walk”, she captioned the post.

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Earlier this month, Tatjana returned from Japan after scooping a gold medal at the World Aquatics Championships in the 200m breaststroke.


While Tatjana Schoenmaker is national hero and role model when it comes to sport, her followers did not bear the same sentiments following her controversial social media post. In fact, many criticised her for supporting a “cruel” industry.

Here is what followers said in the comments section:

@carriannbotha: “All respect just lost as you support this barbaric wildlife practise

@anya_heydenrych: “This is just wrong. It is not their natural habitat to be so.”

@jovanderwalt: “Nope, sorry. This isnt a cool post. It all leads to canned hunting and unsustainable wildlife practises. You should know better.

@olivia_mckie: “You should be educating others and not promoting this canned hunting farm. It’s so dreadfully sad that you won’t even take five minutes to do your own research.”


Following the release of Netflix’s docu-series Tiger King in 2020, the spotlight was cast on wild cats in captivity and the cruel conditions they live in.

According to the African Wildlife Foundation, many wild cat game reserves have been described as “roadside zoos” and “for-profit horror shows.”

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The foundation claims that the following common practises found in these petting zoos are cause for concern:

  • Separating cubs from their mothers
  • Hazardous and inhumane living conditions
  • Cruel exploitation of the animals
  • Being overbred for monetary gain (hence the name canned hunting farms)

Ukutula was featured in the 2015 doccie Blood Lions about the canned hunting and lion bone trade in South Africa.

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