Above: Rare And Exotic Animals: white lions – National Geographic Documentary.
Rare And Exotic Animals – National Geographic Documentary. The white lion is a rare color mutation of the Timbavati area. White lions are the same as the tawny African Lion (Panthera leo krugeri) found in some wildlife reserves in South Africa and in zoos around the world. White lions are not a separate subspecies and are thought to be indigenous to the Timbavati region of South Africa for centuries, although the earliest recorded sighting in this region was in 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 a large part of the population of white lions now reside in zoos.
Europeans first discovered white lions in 1938, though they were not well known until the 1970s, when naturalist Chris McBride published two books about white lions. Although the white mutation probably evolved thousands of years ago, some conservationists feared white lions could not survive in the wild: their coloring would make it impossible to remain camouflaged while hunting.
Consequently, almost all of the white lions were rounded up and sold to zoos, if they were not killed by big game hunters first. Tragically, these beautiful creatures do face a deadly threat because of the color of their pelts — and this threat comes from man. Hunters pay grotesque sums to slaughter lions, even though it is illegal to hunt them almost everywhere in Africa. White lions are especially prized. In South Africa, a particularly vile practice has emerged, known as canned hunting: lions are captured in the wild as cubs, or bred in captivity, and brought up as tourist attractions.
They are bottle-fed, taught not to fear humans, and spend their days being petted and photographed by visitors. But when the cubs grow too big to enchant the tourists, they are put into a small enclosure — to be shot by some foreign ‘hunter’ who wants to hang a lion’s head on his wall and brag that he killed it. One American recently handed over $165,000 to kill a ‘canned’ lion. For all these grim warnings, the discovery of the cubs is still reason for rejoicing. ‘The birth of these second generation white cubs to a wild white lioness is fantastic news,’ says conservationist Linda Tucker, who has reintroduced seven captive white lions into Timbavati, and who founded the Global White Lion Protection Trust to campaign for their survival. It brings huge hope for the future of white lions. The former fashion model, who fell in love with the animals during a safari in 1991, takes a mystical view of the white lions: ‘They are South Africa’s pride and joy, our living national treasure. The Shangaan believe they are sacred animals, and frankly I support the Shangaan on that.’
From the 1970s onwards, prized for their rarity, the white lions and many ‘normal’ colored (tawny) lions carrying the white lion gene were removed from the wild and put into captive breeding and hunting programs and sent to zoos and circuses around the globe. No adult white lion had been seen in their natural habitat since 1994. The Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) therefore initiated a world-first re-establishment of white lions within their natural habitat in 2004, based on successful reintroduction techniques. The wild born offspring of rehabilitated white lions were integrated with resident wild tawny lions, and released through a soft release process.