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Published on Jul 27, 2009

Return of the White Lion

Tales of the existence of white lions have been passed down through four centuries of African folklore. But today no white lions exist in the Timbavati range where they originated. That is, until a team of conservationists brings one special lioness and her three cubs out of captivity and into the natural habitat of their origins.

White lions carry a recessive gene which gives them their white coats. Their unique coloring has created a spectacular and intriguing animal but it has also been their curse - no sooner are white cubs born in the wild, than they disappear. Nobody will say what is happening to these cubs. Today, around 500 white lions exist in zoos and circuses around the world and many are bred for hunting but there are none in Timbavati. They are rarer than the Snow leopard of the Himalayas, but white lions are not protected from hunting or exploitation. Researchers are trying to identify a unique genetic marker which will prove the white lion to be an endangered sub-species. If this marker exists, they will be protected and preserved.

In an effort to preserve the white lion gene in Timbavati, Linda Tucker founded the Global White Lion protection trust in 2002. She has her critics many scientists believe that there is no conservation value in preserving the white lions. They believe that conservation should focus on the whole lion population - which includes the white lion. But hunting of lions is a highly lucrative industry and Linda is concerned that any lion hunted in Timbavati may well be the last carrier of the white gene.

Linda perserveres she is highly motivated and has the support of the local Shangaan tribe. The Shangaan elders hold the white lion sacred believing that white lions are the spirits of their ancestors in lion form and must be revered and protected.
Two years into the project, Linda has achieved much of what she set out to do but the hunting policy hasnt changed and the genetic marker hasnt yet been identified - meaning the white lions are still not a protected sub-species. Whilst this challenge still remains, Marahs legacy lives on as her daughter produces three white cubs, and the brothers are ready to breed with the tawny lionesses. Linda continues to fight for the protection of these magical lions and looks forward to the day when it will be safe for her lions and all white lions - to roam freely in the Greater Timbavati Ecosystem.


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