This is a rare picture and a good one. It is a pride of lions, of which two are white, sleeping on a deserted road thanks to the coronavirus lockdown in South Africa which included shutting down the Kruger National Park (Kruger NP) leaving it devoid of visitors in vehicles.
The Global White Lion Protection Trust state that there are only 13 white lions left in an area around the Kruger NP which is their natural habitat.
The picture was taken by Kruger Park ranger Richard Sowry. We are told that this pride of lions usually resides in the Kempiana Contractural Park which borders the Kruger NP.
Sarah Hartwell, an expert on cat genetics and unusual wild cats tells us that there is more than one genetic strain of white lion. She reports that in 2010 two white lion cubs were reportedly seen in Ingwelala, adjacent to the Kruger National Park. She said that their presence proved that the gene creating white lions still survives in the wild.
White lion genetics in brief
A genetic mutation causes lions to become white. They are not albino lions. Their colouring is due to a partial loss of pigmentation which causes white or pale colouration of the fur but not the eyes. The condition is called leucism. Pigment is visible in the eyes, paw pads and lips. At birth cubs are snowy white. The colour darkens to a pale cream which is described as ‘blonde’.
It has been suggested that the diluted colour of white lions is the same as the recessive cream dilute colour of some purebred domestic cats.
No place in the wild?
Because they are white they have lost their tawny camouflage which aids survival. Poachers can see them more easily. Prey can see them more easily too which makes it more likely they’ll get away when hunted. This further makes survival harder.
These obvious disadvantages have not stopped these two white lions being standard members of a lion pride in Kruger NP. Perhaps their life expectancy is shortened, however.