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Monday, October 6, 2008

Rare White Lions in the Wild: Sanbona, South Africa

Herewith an exciting press release we have been itching to share since a meeting with our friends and partners from Shamwari/Sanbona last month.


WESTERN CAPE PROVINCE, SOUTH AFRICA (10/6/08) -- Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in South Africa’s Western Cape Province has successfully released into the wild an integrated lion pride comprised of two adult male and two juvenile female white lions. The release of the pride onto almost 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) at Sanbona is the culmination of a years-long White Lion Project sponsored by The Shamwari Dubai World Africa Conservation team.

The striking coloration of white lions makes them visible on the savannah and thus vulnerable to predators. The goal of the White Lion Project was to boost their genetic integrity by mating their offspring to the tawny wild lion, thus breeding in survival skills lost through successive generations bred in captivity. Due to poaching and “canned” hunting, the white lion population has dwindled over the years to the brink of extinction. The 300 or so remaining white lions are found in zoos and circuses around the world.

White lions, also known as blond lions, are not a separate sub-species of Panthera leo, the African lion, nor are they colorless albinos – pigmentati
on occurs in the eye, paw pad, and lip. Rather, their coloring is the result of a recessive gene causing a condition known as leucism. Cubs may be born normal tawny lions, but carry the recessive leucism gene, which may show up in future generations. Another explanation for their ivory or cream color is that the recessive gene for white/blonde arose in the lion’s ancient past when its habitat was more wide-ranging and in
cluded snowy and desert regions. In this explanation, it mutated for camouflage. Normal lion cubs are spotted at birth; the coat of white cubs is almost pure white.

Legends about white lions abound, doubtless because of their rarity and spectral appearance. Some believe they are children of the Sun God sent to earthlings as gifts. Other say they are messengers of the gods borne to earth on ships of white light. But “messengers” might be translated “angels,” since white lions are also believed to be the bearers of goodness. They were first spotted in the wild some 400 years ago, but the next recorded sightings were not until 1928. It took almost a half century more before a litter with two white cubs was documented at Timbavati Game Reserve near Kruger National Park in South Africa.

The pride released at Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is being closely monitored by dedicated members of the Shamwari Dubai World Africa Conservation team. Typically the pride separates, but they reunite on a regular basis, and are able to hunt and fend for themselves. They communicate, interact and appear to be experiencing life as wild lions have from time immemorial.
Congratulations to the Sanbona and the Shamwari Dubai World Africa Conservation Team.

Contact us if you are interested in visiting Sanbona. It is situated at the foot of the Warmwaterberg Mountains in the heart of the Little Karoo just 3 hours from Cape Town. Along with Shamwari it is part of the Mantis Collection , sets the standard for responsible tourism, and provides a beautiful malaria-free safarai destination near the famous Garden Route in South Africa.

October 27 Update: Sanbona Group Ecologist interviewed on GMTV about the White Lion Release:

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Blogger David Meisel said...

It is such a pitty that so many white lions are bred and then sold to circuses for amusement, when they should be kept in the wild.

Vist my blog on African Safari Stories. and

October 6, 2008 at 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

They are just beautiful creatures

October 7, 2008 at 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 29, 2010 at 11:56 PM  
Anonymous Meghashyam Chirravoori said...

The white lions looked beautiful.

This was the first time I saw white lions...

Do they have any predators apart from humans?

May 8, 2010 at 8:09 AM  
Blogger Rob Breen said...

Not really Meghashyam. However, hyenas will kill lions if the opportunity arises. It's out of competitive instinct rather than predatory instinct.

May 11, 2010 at 9:33 PM  

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