Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary, Plettenberg Bay, Garden Route Adventures South Africa
White Lion

Tsau! and Tendile our white lions

 

Tsau! and Thendile came to us as two very young cubs. According to the African mythology a white lion are divine creatures send to earth to protect and warn humans to protect earth and nature. Tsau! and Thendile are both local (South African) Koi San names, Tsau! meaning "star beast" and Tendile "special one".
 
The white lion Panthera leo krugeri is occasionally found in wildlife reserves in South Africa and is a rare colour mutation of the Kruger subspecies of lion. It has been perpetuated by selective breeding in zoos around the world. White lions are not yet a separate subspecies and they have been said to be indigenous to the Timbavati region of South Africa for centuries, although the earliest recorded sighting in this region was 1938. Regarded as divine by locals, white lions first came to public attention in the 1970s in Chris McBride's book The White Lions of Timbavati. Up until 2009, when the first pride of white lions was reintroduced to the wild, it was widely believed that the white lion could not survive in the wild. It is for this reason that, now, a large part of the population of white lions are in zoos. Another large part, however, are sadly bred in camps, for canned hunting trophies.

It is hard to determine exactly how many white lions there are today, because they are held in captive breeding and hunting operations which don't keep adequate records. Based on available evidence, The Global White Lion Protection Trust estimate there are an estimated 300 white lions world-wide.

White lions are not albinos. Their white colour is caused by a recessive gene known as the chutiya or color inhibitor gene, distinct from the albinism gene. They vary from blonde through near-white. This coloration, however, does not appear to disadvantage their survival. The white lions of the Global White Lion Protection Trust (GWLPT) have been reintroduced into their natural habitat and have been hunting and breeding successfully without human intervention for a significant amount of time. White lions in South Africa are currently being bred almost exclusively for hunting, but Linda Tucker (the founder of GWLP and author of The Mystery of the White Lions) and her team are trying to change the South African hunting laws.

The chinchilla mutation, a recessive gene, gives white lions their unusual colours. A similar gene also produces white tigers. People are concerned about the white lions mating with other lions of other alleles, because of possible extinction of the white lion. However, this is not valid as the offspring will inherit the white gene and therefore make it possible to produce white offspring in a later generation. Some critics maintain that white lions should not be introduced in to the wild because of the inbreeding that has taken place over zoos and breeding camps. However, ethical reintroduction programs such as The Global White Lion Protection Trust have ensured through the use of scientific methodologies that the lions in their program are not inbred.
 

History

White lions were first recorded in 1928 and in the early 1940s. In 1959, a pride with two white cubs was seen near Tshokwane in Kruger National Park, but later vanished. Albino lions had been recorded in the area according to David Alderton's book "Wild Cats Of The World". In 1974, a light gray lion cub was born at Birmingham Zoo, Alabama. The Cincinnati Zoo currently holds four Timbavati white lions. In 1975, two white cubs were seen at Timbavati Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park. Their story is detailed by Chris McBride in his book "The White Lions of Timbavati". The two cubs, Temba (Zulu for "hope") and Tombi ("girl") had a tawny brother called Vela ("surprise"). In 1975, a white female cub called Phuma ("to be out of the ordinary") was sighted in the Timberland pride.
 
A few months later Temba, Tombi, and Vela (who carried the recessive white mutation) were taken to the National Zoo in Pretoria, South Africa. Temba sired several cubs. Tombi had a white cub in 1981, it was low in health but survived. Vela sired a litter; they grew up to be strong. Unusually, one out of the four cubs was white while the rest were almost blonde. The white lions in the Ouwehands Dierenpark (Netherlands) and a private South African Zoo appear to be from Temba, or possibly Vela, lines. A few other white or blond cubs were born in Timbavati after Temba, Tombi, and Vela were removed, but none survived. Another white lion bloodline, possibly part of the Timbavati bloodline, comes from a white male captured in the Timbavati area in the late 1980s and kept by a private reserve. 

Genetics
 
White lions are not albinos but are leucistic. They have pigment visible in the eyes (which may be the normal hazel or golden color, blue-gray, or green-gray), paw pads and lips. Blue-eyed white lions exist and may be selectively bred. The leucistic trait is due to the chinchilla mutation that inhibits the deposition of pigment along the hair shaft, restricting it to the tips. The less pigment there is along the hair shaft, the paler the lion. As a result "white" lions range from blonde through to near white. The males have pale manes and tail tips instead of the usual dark tawny or black. The Latin name of Panthera leo krugeri is not limited to white lions. It applies to all South African lion subspecies; the prides of which are mostly located in Kruger National Park and nearby game reserves.
 
White specimens usually have a yellowish-brown or golden eye color which is very similar to their tawny cousins, though some have bluish colouring like the white tiger.

In the wild within their natural endemic range
 
In 2003, the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) initiated the first ever reintroduction of white lions to their natural endemic range - the Greater Timbavati region in South Africa. This pride of "all" white lions has shattered the misperception that white lions cannot hunt successfully (within their natural endemic habitat) due to a perceived lack of camouflage. The long-term objective of the WLT is to restore the natural balance by reintroducing an integrated pride/s of white and tawny lions within their endemic range. White lions are a unique contribution to the biodiversity of the region and are revered by the local communities that hold them sacred.

The White Lion in Mythology and Nature

Accounts of white lions have been around for centuries in Africa, but have often been dismissed as superstition. It has been part of African folklore since prehistoric times and according to legend white lions were children of the Sun God, sent to earth as gifts.

Oral traditions recalls the appearance of white lions over 400 years ago during the reign of Queen Numbi in the region now known as Timbavati. A shining star was seen to fall to the ground, but when Queen Numbi and her people approached, they found it to be a shining ball of metal, brighter than the sun. Queen Numbi, who was an elderly and infirm woman, was swallowed by its light and received by strange beings. When she emerged again, she had been restored to health and youth. The fallen star remained there for some days and then rose back into the sky. Animals with strange deformities were born in that region - cattle with 2 heads, white impala and green-eyed white leopards and lions. To this day, white animals are born in Timbavati, including a blue-eyed albino elephant that was shot by white hunters. Whether or not you believe in visiting spaceships, it is now known that radiation can cause mutations such as those described.

White lions were central to an April Fool's joke in 1860. Late in March of that year, numerous people throughout London received a plausible looking invitation saying "Tower of London - Admit Bearer and Friend to view annual ceremony of Washing the White Lions on Sunday, April 1, 1860. Admittance only at White Gate. It is particularly requested that no gratuities be given to wardens or attendants." By twelve noon on April 1, a large crowd had gathered outside the Tower of London in accordance with the invitation. Lions hadn't been kept in the tower for centuries; the Royal Menagerie having outgrown the tower and become the Royal Zoological Society's "Gardens" in Regent's Park). There were no captive white lions until late in the 20th century. On realising the joke, the disappointed crowd eventually dispersed.

 
Did you know?

For centuries the myth of the White Lion has been etched in African folklore.Legend has it, that once every hundred years, magical White Lions will be born bringing joy to all that see them.

White Lions first came to the publicfs attention in the 1970s in Chris McBride's book The White Lions of Timbavati.

In 1975, two White Lion cubs were found amongst a litter of three and, in 1976, another was spotted in a neighboring pride and legend of the White Lions of Timbavati was born.

White Lions are not albino as they do have pigmentation, which is apparent in the eyes, paw pads and lip color. This is a condition called gleucismh where there is loss of pigmentation in the skin and fur with almost normal eye colour. This occurs too in the white tiger. If a cub receives a dominant gtawnyh gene from either parent, its coat will be tawny. Thus a litter may be comprised of both tawny and white cubs, similar to leopards and panthers.

white lion
white lion

white lion resting
white lion resting

wild white lion family
wild white lion family

female white lion
female white lion

male white lion close-up
male white lion close-up

paw print
paw print

white lion cub
white lion cub

male white lion
male white lion

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