A few weeks ago, two white lion cubs were born in a Belgrade Zoo and are reported to be in great health. A zoo volunteer reports that they will not, however, be staying there long. This is due to both the popularity of the rare cubs and the exchange program in which the Belgrade Zoo participates.
White lions are not albino. Their coloring is a recessive trait that results from a less potent mutation in the same gene that causes albinism. Their condition, technically referred to as leucism, is characterized by reduced production of all pigments, not just melanin (as in albinism). White tigers are so colored because of a similar mutation.
Their white or light blonde coat makes these lions quite striking and has accorded them significant spiritual importance in Africa. Although the first recorded sighting of one of these big cats was not until 1938, they are thought to be indigenous to the Timbavati region of South Africa. Zulu shamans believe these cats come from the stars and inhabit Earth to fulfill a special purpose as messengers from God. The white lions are a sacred animal in South Africa and have come to be regarded as guardians of the land.
Sadly, the presence of the white lions in their native habitat has dwindled because of the commercial demand from zoos and circuses. In addition, the cats are often used in camps where tourists go to pay to hunt various exotic African species.
One woman is fighting to protect these remarkable cats. In 2002, Linda Tucker purchased 5,000 acres of land in Timbavati, home to several white lions, and started the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT). Today, several lion ecologists live on the property to ensure the health of the animals and discourage poaching. This approach seems to be working, as three small prides are thriving on the WLT land. To watch a video of the white lion cubs in Serbia, click here.