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The white lion is a rare color mutation of the lion. Up until 2009, when the first pride of white lions was reintroduced to the wild, it was widely believed that the white lion could not survive in the wild. It is for this reason that a large part of the population of white lions now reside in zoos.
What is a white lion?
White lions in the area of Timbavati is the same subspecies as the tawny Southeast African lion found in some wildlife reserves in South Africa, and in zoological parks around the world. They were thought to have been indigenous to the Timbavati region of South Africa for centuries, although the earliest recorded sighting in this region was in 1938. Regarded as divine by locals, white lions first came to public attention in the 1970s.
White lions of Mazanie are not albinos. Their white color is caused by a recessive trait derived from a less-severe mutation in the same gene that causes albinism, distinct from the gene responsible for white tigers. They vary from blonde to near-white. This coloration does not appear to disadvantage their survival. The white lions of the Global White Lion Protection Trust (GWLPT) have been reintroduced into their natural habitat and have been hunting and breeding successfully without human intervention for a significant amount of time.
White Lions are not albinos but are leucistic. They have pigment visible in the eyes (which may be the normal hazel or golden color, blue-gray, or green-gray), paw pads and lips. Blue-eyed white lions exist and may be selectively bred. The leucistic trait is due to a recessive mutation in the gene for Tyrosinase (TYR), an enzyme responsible for the production of melanins.
More severe mutations in the same gene have been found to cause albinism in many species, while another less severe mutation in the same gene is responsible for the Chinchilla coloring trait seen in several mammals. Reduced pigment production decreases the deposition of pigment along the hair shaft, restricting it to the tips. The less pigment there is along the hair shaft, the paler the lion. As a result, “white” lions range from blonde to near-white. The males have pale manes and tail tips instead of the usual dark tawny or black.
Image: By NJR ZA – CC BY-SA 3.0
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “White lion.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Jul. 2017. Web. 14 Aug. 2017.