White lion

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A white lion in the National Zoo & Aquarium of Australia
In Belgrade Zoo, Serbia

The white lion is a rare colour mutation of the lion, specifically the Southern African lion.[1] White lions in the area of Timbavati are thought to have been indigenous to the Timbavati region of South Africa for centuries, although the earliest recorded sighting in this region was in 1938. White lions first became known to the English-speaking world in 1977 through the book The White Lions of Timbavati.[2]


White lions are not albinos. Their white color is caused by a recessive trait, called leucism, derived from a less-severe mutation in the same gene that causes albinism, similar to the gene responsible for white tigers. They vary from blonde to near-white. This coloration does not appear to pose a disadvantage to their survival.[3] White lions were considered to have been technically extinct in the wild between 1992 and 2004, when the Global White Lion Protection Trust achieved the first successful reintroduction of white lions to their natural habitat.[4] These prides have continued to hunt and breed successfully in the wild, whilst other occurrences of white lion births have been reported in the greater Kruger region since then.[4]

Breeding and genetics[edit]

A cub at Kromdraai, South Africa
At Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, Kromdraai

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. Some are concerned about white lions mating with lions of other alleles, due to possible extinction of the white lion allele. 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, thus making the allele more widespread. 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 lions of unknown ancestry[edit]

Lory Park Zoo[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.[8]

Kruger and Umfolozi[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.

Rustenburg Wildlife Rehabilitation Center[edit]

In 2018, Mufasa, a three-year-old, was in the process of being sold in South Africa after he was taken from an owner illegally keeping him as a pet. An anonymous buyer wanted both Mufasa and a female lion named Soraya, intending to protect both. Over 280,000 signed a petition asking that Mufasa not be auctioned, fearing a buyer might just want the lion for hunting.[9]


The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria opposes the deliberate breeding of white lions.[10]

West Midland Safari Park[edit]

In 2004, four white lions arrived at West Midland Safari Park, the only white lions in the United Kingdom. Mubuto, 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.

Newspapers and bloggers reported that the four cubs born at West Midlands Safari Park, in 2008 had been sold to perform in a Japanese circus.[11][12][13] 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."[12] 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."[13]

Jurques Zoo[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 kg (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.

Magan Zoo, Abony[edit]

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

Belgrade Zoo[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).[14] Four additional white lions were born in April 2011.[15] One more cub was born in October 2013,[16] but died soon after.[17]

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 three cubs were born in May 2014.[citation needed]

Karachi Zoo[edit]

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

Bukit Gambang Safari Park, Malaysia[edit]

The first white lions introduced into Malaysia was in March 2013 when the Safari Park in Bukit Gambang Resort City (Pahang) opened its door to the public. With 2 males and 3 females, the first white lion was born in May 2014 and was named King.[18]

Wildlife Park of Sunway Lagoon, Malaysia[edit]

A couple of white lions named Zola and Zuri reside in the Sunway Lagoon's Wildlife Park since April 2015.[19]

Singapore Night Safari[edit]

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

Taman Safari Indonesia[edit]

Taman Safari acquired six white lions from Canada in 2018.[20]

Crimea Lion Park[edit]

A couple of white lions named Milady and Rocky were born at Taigan Lion Park in Crimea in March 2019.[21]


Performers Siegfried & Roy with their white lion in 2011
A couple of white lions in a playful mood; Otumba, Mexico

Toronto Zoo[edit]

In 2012, Toronto Zoo in Canada received three white lions to their African zone[22] and replacing the single white lioness the zoo had since 1996.[23] In September 2015, four white lion cubs were born at the zoo.[24]

Cincinnati Zoo[edit]

In 1998, Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio received two white lions from Siegfried & Roy's White Lion exhibit.[25] Prosperity died on January 6, 2020, at the age of 22. Her female cub Gracious died at age 21 on March 3, 2022.

Reino Animal[edit]

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).[26]

The Wild Animal Sanctuary[edit]

The Wild Animal Sanctuary, located in Keenesburg, Colorado, has at times had white lions rescued from various for-profit zoos or other exploitative situations. All animals at the sanctuary live out the remainder of their lives in large open-air enclosures free from further exploitation.[27]


Kingdom of Zion[edit]

Kingdom of Zion, a private zoo in New Zealand, possesses six male white lions and four female white lions.


Genetically, the white lion is the same subspecies as the tawny South African lion (Panthera leo melanochaita), which is found in some wildlife reserves in South Africa, and in zoological parks around the world. White lions are not albinos, but 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.[28] 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. In 2013, the specific genetic marker that determines the unique coloration of white lions was identified, after a 7-year study led by the Global White Lion Protection Trust and partnering several different countries.[4]

In the wild within their natural endemic range[edit]

From the 1970s onwards, prized for their rarity, the white lions and many 'normal' coloured (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 after 1992. 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. Three prides of white lions of high genetic integrity integrated with tawny lions have been successfully established, and are hunting self-sufficiently in their natural habitat, at a predation rate comparable to the wild tawny lions in the same habitat.[29][30] The genetic marker determining the white colouration was identified in a collaborative study with 5 other countries in October 2013,[28] and is being used to ensure genetic integrity and ultimately to determine the frequency of occurrence of the gene in the wild population.

The primary aim of the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) is to harness the cultural importance of white lions to local indigenous communities,[31] to help protect the Kruger to Canyon (K2C) Biosphere and the greater lion population in this region. This approach is based on the international precedent of the Kermode Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) in British Columbia, whereby this rare, white variant of the American black bear (Ursus americanus) has been declared a critically endangered subspecies due to its conservation and cultural value, such that the Kermode Bear is being used as a flagship species for protecting a 4000 000 ha wilderness area.[32] As with the Kermode Bear, by protecting the white lions, their entire population within their endemic area would be protected.

Subsequently, white cubs were born in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve in 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2012 and 2013, and in the Nwanetsi Area of Kruger National Park in 2014 and 2015, confirming that white lions are a natural occurrence and the recessive gene is still present in the wild population.[33]

In light of the recent decision by South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) at CITES 2016, to continue to allow the hunting of captive bred lions ("canned hunting"), and the trade in lion bones from captive bred lions, the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) asserts that the survival of lions in the Greater Kruger Park Region is likely to come under threat, and the white lion is the ideal capstone animal to help better protect all lions in the Greater Kruger Park Region.

As the proposed policy stands for the management of lions in South Africa,[34] the WLT asserts that the legalization of the lion bone trade will increase the supply and therefore demand of wild lion trophies and especially lion bones, increasing poaching and illegal hunting and threatening the future of wild lion populations in South Africa.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ḥaydar (Arabic: حَـيـدر) is a word for 'Lion'.[6]


  1. ^ Schofield, A. (2013). White Lion: Back to the Wild. BookBaby. ISBN 978-0620570053.
  2. ^ McBride, C. (1977). The White Lions of Timbavati. New York: Paddington Press. ISBN 9780448226774.
  3. ^ Turner, Jason A.; Vasicek, Caroline A.; Somers, Michael J. (8 May 2015). "Effects of a colour variant on hunting ability: the white lion in South Africa". Open Science Repository Biology. Online (open–access): e45011830. doi:10.7392/openaccess.45011830.
  4. ^ a b c "Key White Lion Facts". Global White Lion Protection Trust. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  5. ^ Pajhwok 2017. Bid to smuggle 6 white lions to Pakistan frustrated. Pajwhwok Afghan News
  6. ^ Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. "Ali". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Archived from the original on 18 October 2007. Retrieved 12 October 2007.
  7. ^ Tolonews 2017. Border Police Seize Six Lions At Spin Boldak Crossing Tolonews
  8. ^ "Zoo acquires rare white lion". Prague Monitor. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013.
  9. ^ Thom, Liezl (21 November 2018). "Rare white lion in South Africa named Mufasa may be saved by 'mystery donor'". ABC News. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  10. ^ Barkham, Patrick (11 June 2013). "White lion breeding at UK wildlife parks linked to 'canned hunting'". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 November 2019.
  11. ^ Captive Animals Protection Society (23 November 2012). "Exposed: UK Zoo is Source of Inbred Lions used in Japanese Circus". Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  12. ^ a b "West Midland Safari Park and the Japanese Kinoshita Circus - strange bedfellows?". LionAid.org. 27 November 2012. Retrieved 6 January 2013.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Принове у београдском Зоо врту (tr. "New additions to the Belgrade Zoo ") PTC, 14 August 2010
  15. ^ Bela lavica Maša omacila četiri prinove (tr. "White lioness Masha produced four offspring") Blic Online, 21 April 2011
  16. ^ Hear this adorable white lion cub test her voice Today, 5 October 2013
  17. ^ InSerbia Team. "White lion cub born in Belgrade Zoo died". InSerbia News.
  18. ^ "Park offers prizes for guessing birthday of cub". The Star Online. 4 December 2014.
  19. ^ "Theme park introduces white lions to its Wildlife Park". The Star Online. 2 April 2016. Retrieved 18 April 2016.
  20. ^ "Six white lions introduced to Taman Safari on Imlek".
  21. ^ "Rare white lions were born in Crimea | Animal Good News". animalgoodnews.com. 28 July 2020. Retrieved 17 August 2020.
  22. ^ "Toronto Zoo - Toronto Zoo - White Lions - New for 2012".
  23. ^ Vidya Kauri (4 May 2012). "Toronto Zoo white lions go on display". National Post.
  24. ^ "Move over panda cubs, we're cute, too, say Toronto Zoo white lion cubs".
  25. ^ "White Lion (Panthera leo)". cincinnatizoo.org. Retrieved 17 February 2021.
  26. ^ Reino Animal. Safari Leones. Retrieved on 10 August 2015
  27. ^ "The Wild Animal Sanctuary | Keenesburg, CO | Rescue Stories". wildanimalsanctuary. Retrieved 15 January 2021.
  28. ^ a b 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
  29. ^ Turner, J. A., Vasicek, C. A., & Somers, M. J. (2015). Effects of a colour variant on hunting ability: the white lion in South Africa. Open Science Repository Biology, Online(open-access), e45011830. doi:10.7392/openaccess.45011830
  30. ^ Valeix, M. (2015). Review of "Effects of a colour variant on hunting ability - the white lions in South Africa"
  31. ^ Tucker, Linda "Mystery of the White Lions - Children of the Sun God" 2003 Npenvu Press. ISBN 0-620-31409-5
  32. ^ Marshall, H. D. & K. Ritland. (2002). Genetic diversity and differentiation of Kermode bear populations. Molecular Ecology, 11: 685-697
  33. ^ "White Lions - All the facts and questions answered". Global White Lion Protection Trust. Retrieved 26 November 2020.
  34. ^ Funston, P.J., M. Levendal, & Department of Environmental Affairs. (2014). Draft Biodiversity Management Plan for the lion (Panthera leo) in South Africa.
  35. ^ "SA Proposed Biodiversity Management Plan to put lions at greater risk". whitelions.org. 22 May 2015.

Further reading[edit]

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