White lion

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This article is about the animal. For the Czech order, see Order of the White Lion. For the band, see White Lion. For lion hill figure, see Whipsnade Zoo.
White Lion - Bratislava Zoo, Slovakia
Adolescent white lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa
White lion in Belgrade Zoo, Serbia

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,[1] 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.

White lions of Mazanie are not albinos. Their white color is caused by a recessive trait derived from a less-severe mutation in the same gene that causes albinism, distinct from the gene responsible for white tigers. They vary from blonde to near-white. This coloration 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.


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, animal shows and wildlife parks. Such breeding involves inbreeding and can result in inbreeding depression (genetic defects, reduced fertility, and physical defects), although this has not yet been found to cause hind-limb paralysis or serious heart defects, which would indicate a severe level of inbreeding. People are concerned about white lions mating with lions of other alleles, due to possible extinction of the white lion. However, this is not valid as the offspring will inherit the recessive 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 into the wild because of the inbreeding that has taken place in 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.[citation needed]

White Lion cub at Kromdraai, South Africa
White lions at Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, Kromdraai. South Africa. Pic courtesy: Gary Whyte
White lion cub at Rhino & Lion Nature Reserve, Kromdraai. South Africa. Pic courtesy: Gary Whyte

Kruger and Umfolozi white lions[edit]

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 observed in the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve in Zululand.

West Midland Safari Park[edit]

In 2004, four white lions arrived at West Midland Safari Park, the only white lions in the United Kingdom. Roland (or Rowland), the male, and three lionesses (Marin, Natasha, and JoAnn; spellings undocumented) settled into the Kingdom of the White Lion exhibit at the park very well. In 2008, one lioness had four cubs in the space of 9 hours, doubling the total to eight in England. (A documentary, in two parts, is available at YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vLXVe1QOEI, which shows the nursing mother giving birth and taking excellent care of her four cubs, and at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pogrcbuybRY, which shows the Park Manager and assistant rangers caring for them, naming them, and releasing them into the Park). The pride at the Park in Worcestershire is the only pride of white lion in the UK and is also breeding very well.

In late 2012, newspapers and bloggers reported that the four cubs born at West Midlands Safari Park, in 2008 (names: Caspar, Kiara, Lara and Toto; spellings undocumented) had been sold to perform in a Japanese circus.[2][3][4][5] It is alleged that the lions were given to British businessman Jim Clubb, who runs Amazing Animals, which also goes by the name Heythrop Zoological Gardens, in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. The animal rights organization Lion Aid, Ltd., quoted Mr. Clubb as saying, first, "No comment," then, "I've no idea if the West Midland Safari Park knew they were going to the circus, that's a matter for them."[3] Bob Lawrence, the Head Keeper of West Midland Safari Park, who appears often in the YouTube videos raising the cubs, told the Worcester News, a local newspaper, that he "would never have supplied the four white lion cubs if he had known they would have ended up performing in a Japanese circus."[5]

White lions of unknown ancestry[edit]

  • A white lion breeding program is currently underway at Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve in South Africa's Eastern Cape province.
  • Four white lion cubs were born at the Papanack Park Zoo outside Ottawa. They have since been released into the main reserve with the other tawny lions.
  • Continuous monitoring by the Wildlife Department at Sanbona has ensured their white lions are still wild, well, and free.

Lory Park Zoo in South Africa[edit]

Lory Park Zoo is currently in possession of two adult white lions (Daniel and Heidi), who have produced eight cubs. A litter of three cubs was born in 2012 and all three were hand-reared. A second litter of five cubs was born in 2013; three were removed for their own well-being while the remaining two (a male, Gabriel, and a female, Gazelle) were left with the parents. Both cubs are still with the parents and have not been handled by humans. A male cub was traded for other animals in August 2013 and now lives at the Hodonin Zoo in the Czech Republic.[6]

Jurques Zoo in France[edit]

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.

Belgrade Zoo in Serbia[edit]

Belgrade zoo in Serbia has 12 white lions. In 2010 four were born by two female lions, each weighing about 1.5 kg (3.3 pounds).[7] Four additional white lions were born in April 2011.[8] One more cub was born in October 2013,[9] but died soon after.[10]

Karachi Zoo[edit]

In 2012, the Karachi Zoo, Pakistan, purchased a juvenile male and juvenile female white lion. They have had 2 cubs.

Toronto Zoo[edit]

In 2012, Toronto Zoo received three white lions to their African zone[11] and replacing the single white lioness the zoo had since 1996.[12] In September 2015, four white lion cubs were born at the zoo.[13]

Pafos Zoo[edit]

Pafos Zoo, an Animal and Bird wildlife park in Cyprus, received two seven-month-old white lion cubs in 2011.

Tbilisi Zoo[edit]

In December 2013, four white lion cubs were born at Tbilisi Zoo in Georgia. Cubs needed to be hand fed because their mother wasn't taking proper care of them. Another 3 cubs were born in May 2014.

Singapore Night Safari[edit]

Singapore Night Safari, A subsidiary of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, recently acquired two white lions, a male and a female.

The Kingdom of Zion[edit]

A Lion protection and preservation sanctuary in New Zealand possess six male white lions and four female white lions.

Magan Zoo Abony[edit]

A private Zoo in Abony, Hungary recently acquired two white lion cubs, one male and one female lion.

Reino Animal in Mexico[edit]

A couple of white lions in a playful mood; Otumba, Mexico

Mexican zoo Reino Animal, located in Otumba, State of Mexico, also has a couple of white lions which can be seen at the "Safari Leones" (Lions' Safari).[14]


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 a recessive mutation in the gene for Tyrosinase (TYR), an enzyme responsible for the production of melanins.[15] More severe mutations in the same gene have been found to cause albinism in many species, while another less severe mutation in the same gene is responsible for the Chinchilla coloring trait seen in several mammals. Reduced pigment production decreases 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 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 subspecies of South African lions, the prides of which are mostly located in Kruger National Park and nearby game reserves.

In the wild within their natural endemic range[edit]

In 2003, the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLPT) 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).[full citation needed] 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.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Limpopo celebrates white lion News24, 24 September 2009
  2. ^ Captive Animals Protection Society (23 November 2012). "Exposed: UK Zoo is Source of Inbred Lions used in Japanese Circus". Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "West Midland Safari Park and the Japanese Kinoshita Circus - strange bedfellows?". LionAid.org. 27 November 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Edwards, Anna (27 November 2012). "Fury as Rare White Lion Cubs Born in UK Safari Park are Sent to a Japanese Circus". Mail Online (England: Daily Mail and General Trust). Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  5. ^ a b Kat, Pieter (2 December 2012). "White lions, West Midland Safari Park and the Kinoshita Circus in Japan". LionAid.org. Retrieved 6 January 2013. 
  6. ^ http://praguemonitor.com/2013/08/13/zoo-acquires-rare-white-lion-south-africa
  7. ^ Принове у београдском Зоо врту PTC, 14 August 2010
  8. ^ Bela lavica Maša omacila četiri prinove Blic Online, 21 April 2011
  9. ^ Hear this adorable white lion cub test her voice Today, 5 October 2013
  10. ^ InSerbia Team. "White lion cub born in Belgrade Zoo died". InSerbia News. 
  11. ^ "Toronto Zoo - Toronto Zoo - White Lions - New for 2012". 
  12. ^ Vidya Kauri (4 May 2012). "Toronto Zoo white lions go on display". National Post. 
  13. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/zoo-lion-cubs-1.3316010
  14. ^ Reino Animal. Safari Leones. Retrieved on august 10, 2015
  15. ^ Yun Sung Cho et al. (2013), "The tiger genome and comparative analysis with lion and snow leopard genomes", Nature Communications 4: 2433, doi:10.1038/ncomms3433
  16. ^ Tucker, Linda "Mystery of the White Lions - Children of the Sun God" 2003 Npenvu Press. ISBN 0-620-31409-5

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]