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The white lion is occasionally found in wildlife reserves in South Africa and is a rare color mutation of the Krugermarker subspecies of lion (Panthera leo krugeri). It has been perpetuated by selective breeding in zoos around the world. White lions are not a separate subspecies and they have never been common in the wild. 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. The greatest population of white lions are in zoos where they are deliberately bred for color. The population of the white lion is unknown but the most recent count was in 2004 and 30 were alive.White lions are not albino lions. Instead, the white color is caused by a recessive gene known as chinchilla or color inhibitor. They vary from blonde through to near white, however some can also be red. This coloration gives white lions a distinct disadvantage in nature because they are highly visible. This gives them away to their prey and makes them an attractive target for hunters. According to Linda Tucker, in "Mystery of the White Lions - Children of the Sun God" they are bred in camps in South Africa as trophies for canned hunts.

Breeding white lions

The chinchilla mutation, a recessive gene, gives white lions their unusual colors. A similar gene also produces white tigers. White lions can therefore be selectively bred for zoos and animal shows. Such breeding involves inbreeding of close relatives and can result in inbreeding depression (genetic defects, reduced fertility, and physical defects) although this has not yet been recorded in white lions in zoos it has in white tigers. According to Tucker, white lions in canned hunt camps have been found to have hind-limb paralysis and serious heart defects, indicating a severe level of inbreeding involved in mass-production although they are rare in the wild.People are concerned about the White Lions mating with regular lions.



Timbavati white lions

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 Alder ton's book "Wild Cats Of The World". In 1974, a light Grey lion cub was born at Birmingham Zoomarker, Alabama.

In 1975, two white cubs were seen at Timberland 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 4 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 Timberland after Temba, Tombi, and Vela were removed.Another white lion bloodline, possibly part of the Timbavati bloodline, comes from a white male captured in the Timberland area in the late 1980s and kept by a private reserve.

Temba has left descendants in captivity. A heterozygous tawny lion at Pretoria Zoo carries the mutation and most likely pass this on to his offspring. Two heterozygous tawny males from the Cincinnati Zoo are now at a private reserve in Africa. A white female and a heterozygous tawny male were sent to the Zoological Animal Reproduction Center in Indiana, USA. A second female was put together with another but didn't get along so they were separated for some time until they were comfortable in their surroundings.

Kruger and Umfolozi white lions

In 1979, three litters containing white lions were recorded in Kruger National Park. In March, a female lion with three white cubs was observed near Tshokwane. In September, three white cubs (from two different lionesses) were seen. Another litter of white female cubs was captured from Kruger National Park and treated for sarcoptic mange. A white lion was od in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reservemarker in Zululand.

White lions of unknown ancestry

  • A white lion breeding program is currently underway at Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reservemarker in South Africa's Eastern Cape province.
  • Four white lion cubs were born at the Papanack Park Zoo outside Ottawa, but did not resub-adults) have since been released into the main reserve with the other tawny lions. Queen has since given birth to a further 3 white lion cubs. Continuous monitoring by the Wildlife Department at Sanbona has ensured their white lions are still wild, well, and free.


Jurques Zoo in France

In May 2007 four white lion cubs were born at Jurques Zoo in France. The cubs consisted of one male and three females. Each cub weighed approximately 1.5 kilograms (3.3 pounds) at birth, and all four were in good health. However, they needed to be hand fed because their mother was not taking proper care of them.

White lions are only found in Africa and are kept in zoos. There are only 20 in the world as counted in 2008.

White lion 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.

White lions 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. Preliminary results have shown that the hunting success of the white lion pride was comparable to or higher than the wild prides ('normal' coloured / tawny) of the Timbavati itself (Turner 2005, Turner in prep.). 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.

References

  1. [1]
  2. Tucker, Linda "Mystery of the White Lions - Children of the Sun God" 2003 Npenvu Press. ISBN 0-620-31409-5


  • McBride, Chris "The White Lions of Timbavati" 1977 E. Stanton. ISBN 0-949997-32-3
  • McBride, Chris "Operation White Lion" 1981 St Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-58680-9
  • Sanbona Wildlife Reserve http://www.sanbona.com
  • Mutant Big Cats - Lions (with genealogy charts)


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