Panthera leo krugeri sub.
Letsatsi (meaning 'day' or 'sun') The white lion 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. 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. White lions were first recorded in 1928 and in the early 1940s. In 1959, a pride with two white cubs was seen near Tshokwane in Kruger National Park, but later vanished. Albino lions had been recorded in the area according to David Alder ton's book "Wild Cats Of The World". In 1974, a light Grey lion cub was born at Birmingham Zoo, Alabama. In 1975, two white cubs were seen at Timberland Game Reserve, adjacent to Kruger National Park. Their story is detailed by Chris McBride in his book "The White Lions of Timbavati". The two cubs, Temba (Zulu for "hope") and Tombi ("girl") had a tawny brother called Vela ('surprise'). In 1975, a white female cub called Phuma ("to be out of the ordinary") was sighted in the Timberland pride. A few months later Temba, Tombi, and Vela (who carried the recessive white mutation) were taken to the National Zoo in Pretoria, South Africa. Temba sired several cubs. Tombi had a white cub in 1981, it was low in health but survived. Vela sired a litter, they grew up to be strong unusually one out of the 4 cubs was white while the rest were almost blond. The white lions in the Ouwehands Dierenpark (Netherlands) and a private South African Zoo appear to be from Temba, or possibly Vela, lines. A few other white or blond cubs were born in Timberland after Temba, Tombi, and Vela were removed. Another white lion bloodline, possibly part of the Timbavati bloodline, comes from a white male captured in the Timberland area in the late 1980s and kept by a private reserve. Temba has left descendants in captivity. A heterozygous tawny lion at Pretoria Zoo carries the mutation and most likely pass this on to his offspring. Two heterozygous tawny males from the Cincinnati Zoo are now at a private reserve in Africa. A white female and a heterozygous tawny male were sent to the Zoological Animal Reproduction Center in Indiana, USA. A second female was put together with another but didn't get along so they were separated for some time until they were comfortable in their surroundings. In 2003, the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) initiated the first ever reintroduction of white lions to their natural endemic range - the Greater Timbavati region in South Africa. Preliminary results have shown that the hunting success of the white lion pride was comparable to or higher than the wild prides ('normal' coloured / tawny) of the Timbavati itself (Turner 2005, Turner in prep.). This pride of "all" white lions has shattered the misperception that white lions cannot hunt successfully (within their natural endemic habitat) due to a perceived lack of camouflage. The long-term objective of the WLT is to restore the natural balance by reintroducing an integrated pride/s of white and tawny lions within their endemic range. White lions are a unique contribution to the biodiversity of the region and are revered by the local communities that hold them sacred.