Myths about white lions have formed an integral part of the African folklore for centuries. It is believed that white lions were born every 100 years, bringing joy and happiness to those who saw them. Interestingly, white lions are rarer than the snow leopards of the Himalayas. They have been seen for centuries in the Timbavati region on the border of the Kruger National Park in South Africa. Timbavati is a 200 sq mi area in the Lowveld of Northern Province in Africa, about 350 miles north-east of Johannesburg. The peculiar thing about Timbatvati, is that humans have not had their impact on this region in any way since the beginning of time.
The Three Cubs
In 1975, two white lion cubs were found in this region, followed by one in 1976. The two cubs that were found in 1975 were named Temba and Tombi, while the lone cub found in 1976 was named Phuma. Alongside Temba and Tombi, the litter found in 1975 also comprised a cub which looked like a normal lion, but was heterozygous; meaning, it also carried the white genes. It was named Vela.
As white lions were very rare, they were relocated from their natural habitat into captive breeding programs in South Africa. Some were also relocated to zoos and circuses to save them from being hunted. Sadly, all the white lions alive today are kept in captivity, away from their homeland. The white lion has been extinct in the wild for twelve years now.
Unfortunately, the inefficiency of humans in handling white lions is also being questioned. In 2006, two tawny-colored lions gave birth to two white lion cubs at a private sanctuary in the Timbavati Reserve, but these cubs died in a couple of weeks; allegedly, due to negligence.
White Lions Facts
White lions are same as Panthera leo. Some researchers are of the opinion that this classification will change after the genetic research reveals the important reason for the subspeciation of this rare phenotype. The genetic marker that makes a lion white has not been identified as yet.
White lions are not albino, as pigmentation is present which is apparent in the eyes, lips, and paw pads. This condition is termed 'leucism' where there is loss of pigmentation in the skin and fur, with normal color in the eye, which is seen in these white lions. However, the mystery as to why this condition is seen only in the lions of the Timbavati region is yet to be solved.
Furthermore, it has been proposed that white lions are scientifically inferior to ordinary tawny lions. It is also said that they cannot survive in the wild as they lack camouflage. These theories, however, are yet to be scientifically tested.
White Lions and African Beliefs
The Africans have always turned to the nature for spiritual signs. The arrival of white lions marked the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy that identified these majestic creatures as messengers from the God. Timbavati has been identified as a sacred site by the African kings for centuries. The name of this place in the ancient Shangaan language means 'the place where the star lions came down from the heavens.' The Africans believe that the mysterious white color of these lions is all about purity and enlightenment. To them, these white lions represent pure sunlight, beyond all color, creed, gender, or race.
The Global White Lion Protection Trust was founded by Linda Tucker in 2002 to protect these lions and the indigenous knowledge that holds them sacred. You can visit their website and contribute your bit to save these magnificent animals.