Last week, after working sporadically in The Timbavati area of The greater Kruger for about 28 years (since long before the fence with The Kruger National Park came down!) I had my first sighting of the famous white lions of The Timbavati.
As you can see from the white lioness asleep alongside a normal coloured male lion, the colour difference is obvious. Although their coat colour suggests that these are albinos, they are in fact leucistic. This is a colour mutation related to albinism but not as extreme and while their hair lacks pigment their eyes are pigmented as are their noses and pads; and they have darker spots behind their ears.
These white lions are an integral part of the folklore of the region and had been seen periodically for decades if not centuries. They disappeared between 1993 and 2006 – ostensibly because of hunting & culling. Since then they have been reintroduced as a unique component of the biodiversity of the area. In spite of their conspicuous coloration they seem to be just as successful as normal coloured lions.
There is a lot of fuss about the white lions and the importance of increasing their numbers. Personally I think that they are an excellent tourist drawcard and it is really exciting to see them, but I don’t agree that they deserve any greater protection than any other lions. Leucistic lions are a naturally occurring mutation and time will tell whether the frequency of this mutation increases or decreases. I am intrigued by the observation that in spite of having been present for possibly hundreds of years, the leucistic lion gene did not appear to spread very widely or increase very much – even prior to the decimation of wilderness areas. What do you think?
Anyway, whatever your view on the importance of White Lions in the broader ecological picture, I can confirm that the leucistic gene has been passed onto the next generation: