The White Lion is a critically endangered animal, originating from South Africa’s Greater Timbavati region in the heart of the UNESCO Kruger-2-Canyons Biosphere Reserve region. White Lions hold significant conservation and cultural value for the indigenous Tsonga and Sepedi communities of the region and for many cultures across Africa and the world. Carrying a unique genetic marker, the White Lions are a rare phenotype with profound cultural and conservation significance. Today, there are fewer than 12 White Lions in the wilds of their endemic habitat. Despite ongoing forced removals from the K2C biosphere, this genetic rarity continues to occur and is an important part of the biodiversity of this region.
White Lions lack national and international legislative protection and are victims of habitat encroachment, poaching, and human-wildlife conflict. In particular, they are hunted as trophies in captivity through the legal ‘canned’ hunting industry. White Lions are forcibly removed from their natural habitat, sent to zoos and circuses around the globe, dismembered to provide unproven medical benefits, speed-bred in commercial captive breeding operations, and transferred from cub-petting to captive slaughter farms to be shot as tame adults.
Without increased protection, the White Lions of Greater Timbavati face extinction in the near future. We urge CITES, the IUCN and the South African Government to list the White Lion (Panthera leo tsau) as a critically endangered sub-population and increase protection measures of this rare and culturally revered animal.
Lions are considered a keystone species, a natural indicator of the health of an ecosystem; the threatened status of the White Lions and African lions in South Africa reflect a dire conservation and socio-economic situation in the Greater Timbavati region. The following statistics highlight the trophy hunting threats that White Lions and African lions face: there are over 5,000 South African lions in captivity, compared to the remaining 2,000 South African lions in the wild; there are over 160 lion-breeding farms in South Africa; lion trophy exports from South Africa increased 326% over the past 10 years; and the trophy price for a captive African lion ranges between $5,000- 25,000 USD; the trophy price for wild male White Lion is over $120,000 USD.
According to African elder and traditional healer, Credo Mutwa, African kings declared the Greater Timbavati region a sacred site long before the declaration of Kruger National Park. The name “Tsimba-vaati” is derived from the ancient XiTsonga language meaning “the place where star-lions came down”: the White Lions are the sacred heart of the Greater Timbavati region. Please help protect White Lions and the indigenous culture that reveres them: the future of the Greater Timbavati ecosystem and its people depend on our collective conservation efforts.
Global White Lion Protection Trust Overview: Founded in 2002 by author and conservationist Linda Tucker, the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT) is a non-profit organisation with a dual mission to protect the critically endangered White Lions and preserve the rich cultural heritage that celebrates these magnificent animals.
The WLT is headquartered in the Greater Timbavati region, the endemic habitat of the White Lion and part of the UNESCO Kruger-2-Canyons Biosphere Reserve region. The WLT collaborates with local and international communities to protect these rare iconic animals as global living heritage, of significant conservation and cultural value. The WLT ensures the survival of 3 different free roaming prides in their endemic heartlands. The recent discovery of the genetic marker after 7 years of genetic research reinforces WLT’s campaign to declare White Lions as a protected sub-species or critically endangered sub-population through international regulatory institutions. Visit www.whitelions.org for more information.
Posted: 9 May 2013 (Updated: 14 April 2015)