The white lion animal is not a distinct subspecies, but a special morph with a genetic condition, leucism, that causes paler colouration akin to that of the white tiger; the condition is similar to melanism, which causes black panthers. They are not albinos, having normal pigmentation in the eyes and skin. White Transvaal lion individuals occasionally have been encountered in and around Kruger National Park and the adjacent Timbavati Private Game Reserve in eastern South Africa, but are more commonly found in captivity, where breeders deliberately select them. The unusual cream color of their coats is due to a recessive gene. Reportedly, they have been bred in camps in South Africa for use as trophies to be killed during canned hunts. Confirmation of the existence of white lions only came in the late twentieth century.
For hundreds of years prior, the white lion had been thought to be a figment of legend circulating in South Africa, the white pelage of the animal said to represent the goodness in all creatures. Sightings were first reported in the early 1900s, and continued, infrequently, for almost fifty years until, in 1975, a litter of white lion cubs was found at Timbavati Game Reserve.
White Lions of South Africa
The white lion animal is occasionally found in wildlife reserves in South Africa and is a rare color mutation of the Kruger subspecies of lion (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 is 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.
Why White Lions are White?
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.
The chinchilla mutation, 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 and animal shows. Such breeding involves inbreeding of close relatives and can result in inbreeding depression (genetic defects, reduced fertility, and physical defects) although this has not yet been recorded in white lions in zoos as it has in white tigers. According to Tucker, white lions in canned hunt camps have been found to have hind-limb paralysis and serious heart defects, indicating a severe level of inbreeding involved in mass-production although they are rare in the wild.People are concerned about the White Lions mating with regular lions.
White Lion Cubs
Six white lion cubs born to the UK's only pride of the rare animals have made their public debut.
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