White lion cubs playing together.
The white lion is occasionally found in wildlife reserves in South Africa and is a rare colour mutation of the Kruger subspecies of lion (Panthera leo krugeri). 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 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 500 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.
(Featured in The World Around Us)