The white lion is a rare species from the Timbavati region of South Africa. It is seen by African elders as “the most sacred animal on the African continent,” according to the African Conservation Foundation. Captured and hunted, the majority of surviving white lions have been living in captivity. Successful efforts have been made to reintroduce them to their endemic habitat.
When Europeans encountered white lions in the Timbavati region of South Africa in the 1970s, they immediately saw their value and began to hunt them and take them captive. Zoos and captive breeding operations exploited these unusual creatures for their own gain. Because of these captures, targeted lion culling and trophy hunting the white lion was virtually wiped out of their natural habitat. According to the Global White Lion Protection Trust website, this led to “a 12-year technical extinction in the wild."
Life in the Zoo
There are an estimated 500 white lions in the world living in captivity. Some scientists and zoos have claimed that white lions cannot survive in the wild because of their lack of a camouflage coat. However, this has been proved wrong. When reintroducing white lions to their endemic habitat, the Timbavati region, researchers observed the lions hunting on their own within eight weeks of their reintroduction.
Threats to their Habitat
The Timbavati Private Nature Reserve continues to allow trophy hunting of lions on its grounds and does not offer protection for any of the lion species. In order to protect the lions and return them to their endemic habitat, the Global White Lion Protection Trust has established a conservancy in the Timbavati region so the lions can live protected.
Returning to Endemic Habitat
The White Lion Reintroduction Project was started by the Global White Lion Protect Trust in an effort to reintroduce white lions to their endemic habitat. In 2006 four white lions were released into the natural habitat, and scientists have been monitoring their progress. More white lions have been introduced to strengthen the existing pride and cubs have been born and continue to survive.
Protecting the White Lion
There are no laws protecting the white lion despite the mass movement to capture, hunt and exploit this rare species. They are gravely in need of protection, especially during this time of rebuilding their population in their endemic habitat.