The first records of White Lions date back over 400 years in African history. The first White Lion sighting by a European though, was only in the early 1940s. This was in the Timbavati region. In the ancient Shangaan language Timbavati means The Place Where Star Lions Came Down From The Heavens.
In the 1970s Chris McBride was afraid that these lions would disappear because of human greed and ignorance. In an operation called Operation White Lion, three white lions were relocated from the Timbavati into a captive breeding program. Were it not for this move, the White Lion would surely have died out completely. Today there are no White Lions left in their natural habitat. They have been extinct in nature for 12 years.
The main reason for this is trophy hunting and canned hunting. Canned hunting is the unethical hunting of lions using bait, drugs and small enclosures in an effort to ensure the hunter a kill. White Lions being sold for these purposes fetch ten times the price of tawny Lions and are therefore in great demand. Mystic Monkeys and Feathers Wildlife Park are strongly opposed to this and wholeheartedly support efforts like that of the Global White Lion Protection Trust who on 14 April 2006, successfully re-introduced 4 White Lions back into the Timbavati.
We will also be joining the South African White Lion Breeding Association. They strive to ensure a scientifically based conservation and management program, to protect the African recessive White Lion gene
The white lion is occasionally found in wildlife reserves in South Africa and is a rare color mutation of the Krugerlion (Panthera leo krugeri). It has been perpetuated by selective breeding in zoos around the world. White lions are not a separate subspecies and they have never been common in the wild. 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. The greatest population of white lions are in zoos where they are deliberately bred for color. The population of the white lion is unknown but the most recent count was in 2004 and 30 were alive. White lions are not albino lions. Instead, the white color is caused by a recessive gene known as chinchilla or color inhibitor. They vary from blonde through to near white, however some can also be red. This coloration gives white lions a distinct disadvantage in nature because they are highly visible. This gives them away to their prey and makes them an attractive target for hunters. According to Linda Tucker, in "Mystery of the White Lions - Children of the Sun God" they are bred in camps in South Africa as trophies for canned hunts subspecies of
White lion genetics
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 the chinchilla mutation that inhibits 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 through 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 South African lion subspecies; the prides of which are mostly located in Kruger National Park and nearby game reserves.
White lions are not albino as they have pigmentation which shows particularly in eye, paw pad and lip colour. The correct term for their condition is leucism, a state where there is near-normal eye colour, but loss of pigment in the skin and fur.
The cause of the unusual colouration is the same as for the white tiger. A recessive gene which results in the white appearance is found in a very small number of captive lions.
White specimens usually have a yellowish-brown or golden eye color which is very similar to their tawny cousins, though some have bluish coloring like the white tiger.
The first authenticated sightings were in 1928. The first White Lion sighting by a European was in the Peru area of Timbavati in the early 1940s by Joyce Mostert, whose family owned large tracks of land in the area. During March 1959, twelve lions with 2 white cubs were seen near Tshokwane in the Kruger Park; though unfortunately they were never seen again. David Alderton's "Wild Cats Of The World" claimed there were albino lion cubs in Kruger in 1960, but they were more likely to have been white lions. In 1974, a light grey lion cub was born at Birmingham Zoo, Alabama, but was darker than the Timbavati white lions reported a year later.
No truly white lions were captured until 1975 when a litter containing 2 white cubs was found at Timbavati Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park. The white cubs were discovered by researcher Chris McBride. Their story is documented in the book "The White Lions of Timbavati". The 2 cubs were a male and a female that they named Temba (Zulu for "hope") and Tombi ("girl"). Their tawny brother was called Vela ('surprise') and sired a litter before being sold by Pretoria. Mcbride realised that the white cubs were disadvantaged in the wild - they were highly visible to both prey and to predators. Temba, being a male, would eventually be ejected from the pride and become nomadic until he managed to take over another pride. As a nomad, the highly visible Temba would have little chance of catching prey and would most likely starve. Tombi was safer, since lionesses remain with the pride, but would be at risk if she was ejected for any reason. More than once, the white cubs were found in an emaciated condition and the researchers found it necessary to provide kills for them..
In 1976 a white female cub was born among a large litter north-west of Tshokwane; at about 2 years old her colour darkened considerably. In 1977, an aerial census of the Central District observed a white male lion approximate 2 years old and yellow-white rather than pure white. By the age of 4, this lion (which had formed an alliance with 2 other adult males) was also darker, but its tail tip remained buff rather than becoming black. In August 1976, a white female cub was sighted in another subgroup of the pride and belonging to a different lioness. She was named Phuma (meaning "to be out of the ordinary"). She was part of a large litter that displayed a gradation of colour ranging from pure white, through pale blond to normal tawny. At the age of about 2 years, this female left the Timbavati reserve and was unfortunately killed. Her skin was later found for sale in a shop in the town of Sabi. This prompted concerns that Temba and Tombi would meet the same fate. As a result, McBride decided to capture Temba, Tombi and Vela (although tawny, Vela carried the gene for white). The cubs were taken to the National Zoo in Pretoria, South Africa where Temba produced several cubs before his death in 1996. In 1981, The white female produced a pure white cub which unfortunately died shortly after birth. Vela was sold and went to an unknown destination. It is not known whether Vela left any descendants, though the white lions in the Ouwehands Dierenpark (Netherlands) and a private South African Zoo appear to be from the Temba a Vela lines. Since the removal of Temba, Tombi and Vela, only a few white or pale cubs were born from time to time. One female lived for several years and was often seen hunting with her pride; she was killed in a territorial fight in 1993 and no white lions have survived since then.
Pretoria Line - White Lions of Timbavati Genealogy (large image, opens in new window)
Many people believe the cubs should have been left to take their chances in the wild. The genes to produce white in lions are now believed lost in the general population. White lions were never seen anywhere other than Timbavati Game Reserve and the white gene pool was almost definitely limited to this area. Lions in Timbavati have been killed by poachers. Several lions survived from the original white lions of Timbavati and are descended from Temba. A heterozygous tawny lion at Pretoria carries the gene for white and could pass this on to his offspring. Two heterozygous tawny males were kept at Cincinnati Zoo and are now at a private reserve in Africa. A white female and a heterozygous tawny male are at the Zoological Animal Reproduction Center in Indiana, USA. A second female from the original strain was unfortunately she was killed by the other female while on loan to a zoo.
Kruger and Umfolozi White Lions
There is more than one genetic strain of white lion. In 1977, Johannesburg Zoo caught a heterozygous male apparently from a different pride to that studied by Chris McBride. This wild tawny male came from litter that contained a white lion. Johannesburg Zoo claims to be the first in the world to have bred white lions in captivity. Timba, a brown lion from the Timbavati game reserve, was shot and was taken to the zoo for medical treatment. He was believed to have the rare white gene and was bred to a captive female and later mated to one of his own daughters. His white daughter Bella was born in 1982 (along with tawny littermate Danie) and she went on to produce many other white lion cubs. The lion that founded the Pretoria Zoo bloodline was known to have a white sibling in the wild and was therefore a carrier of the white gene. When mated with his own daughters, white offspring were produced. This bloodline is represented at zoos in Philadelphia, Toronto, China, Germany and Japan. In 1979, three different litters containing white lions were recorded in the huge Kruger National Park. In March 1979 a female lion with 3 white cubs was observed neat Tshokwane. In September 1979 another 3 white cubs (from 2 different lionesses) was seen. In 1979, the most recent litter of white cubs, all female, in the Kruger National Park were seen to have sarcoptic mange and were captured for treatment. In 1979, a white lion was observed in the Umfolozi Game Reserve in Zululand.
Johannesburg Line of White Lions (large image, opens in new window)
The Sanbona White Lions
Conservationist Dr Gaston Savoi, Co-Chairman of Mantis Collection, aims to return the white lion to the wild (although they are really a mutant strain perpetuated in captivity by humans, just like white tigers). In 2003, white lion "Jabulani" and white lioness "Queen" were purchased and released into Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, South Africa. In May 2004, this pair produced 3 cubs (2 males, 1 female). In June 2004, a white lioness and her 3 five month old cubs joined them at Sanbona. The Global White Lion Protection Trust saved these animals from a life in captivity. These lions have made their own kills in addtion to receiving carcasses of zebra and kudu.
WHITE LION GENETICS
White lions are not albino (unpigmented) but are leucistic - leucism describes an effect rather than a particular gene. They have pigmentation which is visible in the eyes, paw pads and lips. Their eyes are usually the normal hazel or golden colour although some have blue, blue-green or greyish-green eyes. At birth, the cubs are snowy white and may be described as resembling polar bear cubs. The birth colour gradually darkens to a pale cream colour known as blond (another name for white lions is blond lions). The mane and tail tuft remain a paler shade.
In the Long Island ocelot Club newsletter 23/2 April 1979, Pat Warren wrote "The Color Genetics of Hybrids" based on her F1 Geoffroy's Cat hybrids and F1 Leopard Cat hybrid. Warren considered the cream coloured "white lions" of Timbavati might be the recessive cream dilute of a red colour familiar to domestic cat breeders. In 2008, it was suggested that some very pale captive lions had a gene analogous to "champagne" in horses.
Although the mutation occurred naturally in the wild and has cropped up several times due to hidden recessive genes, white lions do not have a place in the wild. They lack the tawny camouflage needed for survival - this makes them visible to poachers and to the prey, reducing their effectiveness as predators. It is possible that the former range of lions may have included terrain where a blond colour was advantageous. Modern strains of white lions should be considered "man-made" much as a Persian cat is a man-made cat breed. There has been a recent trend in breeding pure white lions for zoo exhibits and animal acts. To ensure genetic diversity, they are crossed with tawny lions from the same region.
Skin and fur get their colour because the tyrosinase protein helps skin cells manufacture melanin. A genetic defect in tyrosinase leads to albinism because melanin cannot be made - either cannot be made at all, or cannot be made properly. This is "c-locus albinism" and it also affects the visual pathways, sometimes resulting in crossed eyes because the nerves from the eyes connect up in an abnormal way. In domestic cats, there are several albino mutations: Burmese sepia (changes black to brown, orange to yellow), Siamese colourpoint (colour is restricted to head/legs/tail), blue-eyed albino and pink-eyed albino. There is also the "Inhibitor" (Chinchilla) gene that prevents deposition of pigment on the hair shaft, but allows pigment at the hair tips - this is the mutation found in white Bengal tigers.
The normal colour of lions varies from sandy-golden through to tawny-brown with the male's mane being dark brown or black in some subspecies. Faded spots and rosettes may be visible under some lighting conditions. According to Roy Robinson, noted feline geneticist, white lions have either the chinchilla or acromelanism mutation. Some older literature mistakenly referred to chinchilla as a form of albino. The appearance of blond and white lions (colloquially called leucism) means that colour variations in lions are probably more common than originally thought. The high mortality rate in lion cubs means that those colour variations haven't been observed in the past. White lions have survived due to human intervention.
Though not as common as white tigers, white lions are now being found in more and more zoos and may well be the current "must have" big cat. Their value as attractions may well send them down the same path as the white Bengal tiger: mass production, inbreeding and indiscriminate crossing with other subspecies e.g. to produce larger, showier manes for circus acts. Already they have been bred in bulk with no regard for health and used in canned hunts. If crossed with stripeless white tigresses, white or blond ligers would result - something almost certain to happen one day because the huge size of ligers makes them attractive exhibits.
For those interested in human genetics, albinism and leucism are found in humans; in one striking case of human leucism, a young girl of African origin presented with milk white skin, normally pigmented [brown] eyes and golden hair [personal observation, November 2003]
WHITE LION GENERAL QUESTIONS THAT ARE ASKED ?
Are the White Lions "albino lions"
No, they are not. In 1997 a study by Cruickshank & Robinson determined conclusively that White Lions are not albinos. They have blue or gold colouration in their eyes, black features on the tip of their noses as well as "eye-lining" and, dark patches behind their ears ("follow-me signs"). By contrast, albino lions, which lack pigmentation, have a characteristic pink or red colouration to their features. White colouration in White Lions is similar to blue eyes in humans, which is similarly due to a recessive gene.
Where do the White Lions originate from?
The White Lions were once a natural occurrence in a specific distribution range in South Africa: the Greater Timbavati and southern Kruger Park region. White Lions made a significant contribution to the biodiversity of that region. Studies have shown that White Lions survived successfully in their natural distribution range for at least 56 years - and in all likelihood, much longer.
How did White Lions disappear from the Timbavati?
After they were "discovered" by Europeans in the 1970s, White Lions were artificially removed from the wild to captive breeding and hunting operations. These captive operations as well as zoos specifically bred White Lions because of their rarity and exploited them for financial gain. Along with these removals, lion culling in the Kruger National Park (especially in the 1970s) and trophy hunting of pride male lions in the Timbavati have depleted the gene pool. This has contributed to the drastic decline in the frequency of occurrence of White Lions and ultimately a 12-year technical extinction in the wild.
Their white colour makes them conspicuous in the wild - can White Lions camouflage themselves in order to hunt for themselves?
Yes, studies show that White Lions are endemic to one place only on earth: the Greater Timbavati region in South Africa. This region is characterised by white sandy riverbeds and in the winter the long grass in this area is scorched pale. In this habitat they are very well camouflaged. In fact, members of our scientific monitoring team have reported that the telemetry equipment used to track the white lions in the wild has often indicated that they are within a 20 meter radius and yet they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Of course in sparsely vegetated areas like the Karoo or the lush green grasslands of Natal (where they are not in their natural environment) they are more conspicuous. In their natural habitat, the White Lions are "apex predators" - i.e. they have been recorded as hunting successfully during the day and at night, killing prey as large as giraffe. It is important to note that most lion prey animals are colour-blind and, therefore, the difference in sightability between tawny and white lions is not nearly so drastic. Also, lions hunt co-operatively in groups and mostly at night and hence hair colouration is less significant than it would be in diurnal or solitary predators. Our research indicates that White Lions were often dominant in their prides in the wild, successfully raising litters and leading hunting expeditions. There are records of them hunting and providing for their tawny prides. Moreover, our own scientific monitoring team recorded more than 95 kills within our founding pride's first year of release in the wild. Significantly, the founding pride did not require a wild tawny pride to teach them how to hunt.
Are the White Lions currently classified as an 'endangered species'?
No, they are not yet appropriately classified. Presently, the White Lions are listed as Panthera leo, under CITES Appendix II, and, therefore, fall under the classification of a "Vulnerable Species", i.e. species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but, that may become so unless trade is closely controlled. Appendix II means that White Lions or their derivatives (e.g. animal parts) can be sold, hunted and traded. In reality, every permit issued to hunt a lion (Panthera leo) can be used to hunt a White Lion. Since there are currently no White Lions in the wild in their endemic range, White Lions are critically endangered. Any White Lions born or reintroduced to the wild are not protected.
Why are White Lions not classified as 'endangered' and officially protected if they are so rare in the wild?
White lions are not classified as a 'subspecies' of Panthera leo, and as such are not protected in the wild or in captivity. The lack of objectivity in lion classification means that there is no legislation that protects 'rare' and 'unique' lion groupings in certain regions . For instance, similar to the White Lion, the lion populations living in west and central Africa could possibly be characterized as "critically endangered". But, because their status as a separate lion 'subspecies' is unclear, their need for protection has not been officially recognized .The subspeciation issue today is highly controversial. There are "Lumpers" (scientists who believe in protecting the whole species only: i.e. lions are lions are lions) and "Splitters" (scientists who believe that sub-categorising helps to give specific protection). Although there is evidence to suggest that White Lions should be classified as a subspecies, this is after-all only a classification. While waiting for this elaborate scientific debate to resolve itself, these rare animals need urgent protection.
Is there any 'evidence' indicating that White Lions can be classified as a subspecies?
After five years, we are at a fairly early stage of our research, but there is a fair amount of evidence - as well as precedents set by groups working with other species - to indicate that White Lions should be classified as a subspecies. By way of example, the lions of the Sabie Sands region (in the Greater KNP) have been recognized as one of four uniquely defined lion groups in Africa . Because the Timbavati and central / southern Kruger Park, generally speaking, have a similar geography, vegetation, geology, fauna and flora, and history compared to the Sabie Sands region - and the lions in this region would most probably fall in the same lion group as the White Lion could therefore, also receive a unique protective status.
What is the main focus of the Global White Lion Protection Trust?
The primary aim of the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) is to re-establish White Lions within their natural distribution range in the way they once occurred naturally. This is done in strict accordance with current conservation principles. The Trust takes a holistic approach: in conserving the White Lion as an 'apex predator': we first conserve its prey, but to conserve the prey species we have to protect their habitat, and in order to protect the habitat we involve and include the people that share that habitat. As a unique contribution to the biodiversity of the Greater Timbavati region - and as an animal that is revered by the Shangaan people - the White Lion must be protected. To date the genetic marker for the White Lion has not been determined. The Trust has, therefore, embarked on ground-breaking research to identify the genetic marker. Our scientific team is doing so through the process of DNA analysis, in collaboration with genetic specialists from Swansea University in Wales.
Once the genetic marker is known, how can this research protect the White Lions?
This research will be used to classify the White Lion as a "critically endangered subspecies / regional polymorphism (variant)" of Panthera leo that occurs in a specific geographic range, according to the criteria for the IUCN Red Data List and CITES Appendix I or III listing. This unique genotype of Panthera leo needs to be preserved, and the phenotype restored within its natural distribution range. Trophy hunting still takes place in the White Lions natural distribution range and the captive breeding in canned hunting operations has put the genetic pool under duress. The Trust's Scientific Research Centre aims to acquire key individual White Lions of the highest genetic integrity to participate in the genetic research and preservation program. The Trust has presented the White Lion Protection Plan to the South African Government in February 2008.
The outcome was extremely positive, with the Committee resolving to support the Trust's conservation efforts. A copy of the parliamentary presentation is available on www.pmg.org.za. The genetic research process provides a necessary foundation to have the White Lions listed on the Schedule of Threatened and Protected Animals of National Importance.
You indicated that the Global White Lion Protection Trust is following precedents to classify the White Lions. Can you elaborate?
One important example is the global precedent set by a scientific team working in British Columbia (Canada) with the so-called "Spirit Bear" (a.k.a. the Kermode Bear). Similar to the White Lion, the Spirit Bear is a unique genetic variant of the Black Bear (Ursus americanus), and occurs in only one place in the world, the temperate rainforests of British-Columbia. Also similar to the White Lion, the white coat of the Spirit Bear is believed to be the result of a double recessive allele. The Spirit Bear has been classified as a 'sub-species' (Ursus americanus kermodei). Since the mode of genetic inheritance is similar to that of the White Lions, indications are that the White Lions will also be classified as a 'sub-species' of (Panthera leo).
What evidence exists to show that the Global White Lion Protection Trust's 'Scientific Reintroduction Project' has been successful?
The aim of the Reintroduction Programme is to reintroduce White Lions back to the wild in their natural distribution range in the Greater Timbavati. Our reintroduction protocol was developed over the past seven years with input from experts and specialists in numerous fields. The Trust's Reintroduction Programme utilizes pedigreed White Lions - meaning that they are of the highest genetic integrity - whose lineage is directly traceable to Timbavati. A pride of un-imprinted White Lions have been successfully reintroduced to the semi free-roaming conditions on the 1000 hectare control area of the Trust's founding property in the Greater Timbavati. They are now hunting for themselves and are completely self-sufficient.
Some say the White Lions in your Reintroduction project are being 'bred in captivity' because the lions are kept in cages. Is this true?
No, the White Lions participating in our project are not kept in cages. This would oppose everything our project stands for. The White Lions in our Reintroduction Programme have been reintroduced to semi free-roaming conditions in a 1000 hectare control area in their natural endemic habitat in the wild. The Reintroduction Programme is in line with current strategies for lion conservation that follow the 'meta-population' management approach. This approach is already in use in southern Africa .In order to completely introduce White Lions back into the wild, and to ensure genetic diversity, the Trust aims to establish and manage a number of separate sub-populations before reintegrating the White Lions with resident tawny prides within their core distribution area of the Greater Timbavati region. The only time the Trust's White Lions are temporarily held in an enclosed area or boma, is for the standard acclimation period when introducing lions to a new area or when bonding the White Lions with wild tawny lions prior to reintroduction. We follow the IUCN's (World Conservation Union) "soft release" approach and in this way the White Lions are being progressively introduced to larger sized wildlife areas within their natural distribution range.
How do you monitor the progress of the White Lions in your Reintroduction Project?
Our scientific monitoring team monitors and records the behavioural and predation patterns of the White Lions in the Reintroduction Programme three times a day during their peak activity periods. The lions are radio-collared so as to track them whilst hunting. The lions are never approached on foot. We have a strict scientific protocol and any visitor to the project must be accompanied by a member of the monitoring team. The cubs are raised by their mother, and are never approached or touched. We are completely opposed to the concept of 'lion petting', as human imprinted lions cannot be easily reintroduced to free-roaming conditions.
Can one expect any casualties in your Reintroduction Programme?
With the risks involved in hunting in the wild, lion mortality is high - 80% of lion cubs do not survive to become adults. White Lions have to face these odds over and above all the dangers which humans pose for them. The tragic death of our founding lioness, Marah has highlighted the critical nature of White Lion conservation. Following a year of superb performance in the wild (with more than 95 recorded kills, for which she was primarily responsible), she died while hunting for her cubs. Our monitoring team is focused now on the survival of Marah's sub-adult offspring, who were taught their hunting techniques by their mother. We are pleased to report that they have hunted successfully on their own, killing prey as large as adult wildebeest. The vitally important scientific reintroduction is continuing as planned. The lions' natural prey base is increased when necessary and a new blood line of genetic pedigree is now being introduced.
When were White Lions last spotted being born wild in the Timbavati region? Can any lion produce white offspring?
In May, 2006 two White Lion cubs were born - amidst tawny cubs - in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve (neighbouring Timbavati). In October of the same year, another two cubs were born at Tabby's Crossing in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, none of the white cubs - or their tawny siblings - survived. At the best of times, the survival rate of lion cubs to adulthood is only 20%. Trophy hunting in the region made it even less likely that the cubs would survive. One of the two dominant male lions of both prides that gave birth to the white cubs, was trophy hunted . This increased the likelihood that a nomadic coalition killed the cubs. Only lions that are white or are carrying the rare white lion gene can produce white offspring. Both parents need to be carrying the gene to ensure the possibility that some of the offspring will be white. According to Mendels principles of gene inheritance: (i) if both parents are tawny and are carrying the white gene there would be a 25% chance of having white cubs, (ii) if one parent is white and the other is tawny but carries the white gene, there is a 50% chance of white cubs, and (iii) if both parents are white, 100% of the offspring will be white.
When were White Lions first spotted in the wild and how many are there world-wide?
They were first spotted by a European witness in 1938 and documented in the 1970s, although African records indicate they were resident in this region for a much longer period. There were 12 recorded births in 9 prides in the Timbavati and Kruger National Park between 1975 and 1980. Due to the artificial removals in Timbavati and the lion culling in the KNP in the 1970s , there were less than a handful of births from 1980 to 1993, and none from 1993 to 2006. It is hard to determine exactly how many white lions there are today, because they are held in captive breeding and canned hunting operations which don't keep adequate records. Based on available evidence, we estimate there are less than 300 White Lions world-wide. There are no white lions in the wild within their natural distribution range, except for those in our project, whom are semi-free roaming in a 1000 hectare control area.
Has anyone else ever tried to reintroduce White Lions back into the wild?
Yes, there were two attempts made by the Timbavati themselves: the first was in the late 1980s and the second took place in 1993. Sadly, reintroduction techniques were not as sophisticated as they are today and the attempts failed. Since then, reintroductions have been increasingly proposed and practiced as a conservation strategy and method to return 'extirpated' populations to their former range.
Will the White Lions in your project ever be in contact with other lions?
Yes they will. The Trust's ultimate goal is to once again integrate wild-born White Lions into the lion population within their natural distribution range. In this way the natural dynamics of their endemic region will be restored. Also, if successful, this will help validate the 'meta-population management' approach for lions in South Africa. The founder White Lion pride already interacts with other tawny lions at the electrified boundary fences between the primary reintroduction area and the neighbouring private nature reserves, showing natural territorial behaviour. The next step in the carefully phased long-term Reintroduction Programme is to bond the White Lions with two wild tawny females from the region. These wild females have been specifically identified as they originate from the Greater Timbavati region and will, therefore, not disturb the existing natural pride structures. At every stage, our procedure is to support the processes of nature and not to disturb them.
What is your response to the 'purist' scientific view that "nature should take its own course"?
In reality, there are very few ecosystems today that are not in some way 'managed'. The Kruger National Park (KNP), in spite of its large size (greater than 20 000 square km) is not an entirely 'self-contained system in nature'. It is managed: i.e. vegetation is burnt on a rotational basis; species are trans-located to and from the KNP and an elephant culling programme is imminent. If indeed we were to follow pure conservation principles, we should acknowledge that i) White Lions once occurred naturally, ii) their frequency of occurrence had increased before they were artificially removed from the Timbavati and iii) their gene pool in the KNP was depleted by the lion culling program in the 1970s. Strictly speaking then, White Lions should rightfully be restored within their natural distribution range. White lions are a unique contribution to the biodiversity of the Greater Timbavati / KNP region, and they are revered by indigenous communities in the area. The balance was once disturbed through human intervention and we need to restore it.
What are the 'critical next steps' to having the White Lions protected?
South African legislation pertaining to the management of large predators has to change drastically. Currently, White Lions are not protected by South African law because they are not classified appropriately on the Schedule of Threatened and Protected Animals of National Importance. White Lions are important not only because of their conservation value but, also due to their cultural and eco-tourism value in the region. They hold enormous cultural and spiritual significance for the indigenous communities of the region. The Trust is formally collaborating with the South African Government at local, regional and national levels to refine legislation to protect the White Lions. After many years of campaigning for their protection - and submitting more than 10 000 hand-written petitions and letters of support calling for their protection - the South African Government has undertaken to re-draft pertinent legislation accordingly.