white lion

Image via lonelyplanet.com

The white lions of Timbavati and their ‘spiritual powers’

For centuries, there were whispers on the wind, rumours in the hills, and stories from tribesmen about beautiful white lions with piercing blue eyes that roamed the plains of Africa.

white lion

Image via lonelyplanet.com

Rumours become mysteries and mysteries became legend, which fell to the sands of time, until, in October of 1975, wildlife enthusiast Chris McBride, made an amazing discovery when he found the first known, naturally occurring pure white lions in the Kruger National Park’s Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.

During an expedition where he was tracking and studying a particular pride of lions as part of the fieldwork requirement of his Master’s degree in Wildlife Management, Chris made his remarkable discovery.

Taking the wildlife world by storm, that historical moment has placed the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve on the map ever since for being one of the few regions in the world where these lions occur naturally.

Spotting the lion cubs

For months after the two white lion cubs, named Temba and Tombi, were discovered, it was believed that these cubs were a unique and once-off occurrence – a genetic mishap that sometimes happens in nature. However, a year later, Chris discovered another pure white lion, born to a different lioness and living in a different pride and the world sat up and took notice.

Much to the excitement of wildlife enthusiasts around the world, white lions have continued to be seen in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve since then, and today, four white lions can be seen in the Timbavati area, from two different prides. Although they remain extremely elusive and seeing one comes down to pure luck, each sighting is a breath-taking and almost ethereal experience to see these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat.

What is a white lion?

A white lion is a normal healthy lion, which displays the effects of a recessive gene known as the chinchilla or colour inhibitor, which results in a condition known as “leucism” (also termed a chinchilla mutation). This is distinctly different from albinism in that the the pelt is white, but the eyes and skin are pigmented and normal and the cubs are from tawny parents – “normal” lions – who simply carry the recessive white lion gene.

Image via exclusivegetaways.co.za

These magnificent creatures are said to have spiritual powers and are revered amongst local and tribal peoples in the area. While they might certainly echo the spirit of Africa, sighting one of these unique and bewitching animals would undoubtedly leave an unforgettable and everlasting mark on the soul.