Thursday, October 8, 2009

The White Lions of Timbavati, South Africa

I first saw Nokanda about ten years ago at the Toronto Zoo. A rare white lioness, her name is Zulu for “lucky.” I didn’t know why I was so taken with this lion but I loved to go and watch her and was fortunate enough to be around when she had cubs with her mate Rowdy. They were enchanting to watch and my fascination with Nokanda started to make sense when I read the book Mystery of the White Lions by Linda Tucker and learned about the special position white lions occupy in the lore of the lion shamans of South Africa.
Nokanda Photos by Toronto Zoo

White lions are native to the Timbavati region of South Africa which borders the Kruger National Park. They are not albinos but are a genetic rarity endemic only to Timbavati. Some of the tawny lions in the Timbavati carry the white lion gene. White lions are currently classified under the species classification Panthera Leo however that may change with new research being done by the Global White Lion Protection Trust.
Nokanda and Nokanda cub photos by Kathy Stanley
Linda Tucker in Mystery of the White Lions: Children of the Sun God describes Timbavati: “Once a cradle of civilization, traces of Stone Age and Bronze Age man still exist in Timbavati’s forgotten sites, although few visitors are aware of their existence. Even few know that this remote bushveld region is believed to be one of the most sacred sites on the African continent. . . [The arrival of the white lions in Timbavati] was predicted by tribal shamans long before they made a physical appearance. The local inhabitants view them as the most sacred of animals and believe their appearance to be prophetic of changing times on earth. Ever since I first came to Timbavati, I had felt an aura hanging over the territory at the mention of the White Lions. From the awe-inspiring descriptions of the Shangaan trackers, it seemed that these were no ordinary animals. The trackers believed the White Lions were sent as gifts from God.” (Tucker) Similar to other indigenous peoples, the tribes believe that if you hurt these special creatures you will incur the wrath of the gods. There have been other special qualities attributed to the emergence of white creatures such as the story of white buffalo calf woman in Native American tribes.
Photo of white lions at Global White Lion Protection Trust in Timbavati Region by Brad Laughlin

According to the Global White Lion Protection Trust website: “There are only an estimated 500 white lions worldwide - in captivity. Regarded by African tribal elders as the most sacred animal on the African continent, this rarest of rarities have been hunted to extinction in the wild by trophy hunters and poachers who pay astronomical sums to shoot a white lion for pleasure. They have also been hunted in captivity in a notorious malpractice known as ‘canned lion hunting.’ No law protects them from being wiped off the face of the earth.”

The last white lion to be seen in the wild was in 1994 but now the establishment of the Global White Lion Protection Trust has brought the white lions back to their native land. They introduced a pride into the Trust’s wildlife refuge in Timbavati and since then cubs have been born in the wild. A National Geographic documentary titled “Return of the White Lions” tells the story of the return of the white lions to their native Timbavati region and the efforts to reintroduce them back into the wild.
Photo by Brad Laughlin

It is my hope that the white lions will thrive in their native Timbavati region and I support the Global White Lion Protection Trust and their admirable work in bringing these beautiful lions back to reside in the land from where they emerged. Truly they are a global treasure and should be protected at all costs. I support all efforts in urging the South African government to put an end to the horrific activities of trophy and canned hunting that harbor defenseless animals on the brink of extinction against the worst species of predator: men with guns. Recent reports out of Kenya state that their lion population could be extinct within 10 years. Isn't it time that canned and trophy hunting also be slated for extinction? Copyright©Kathy Stanley.

Update to this post:  Read a June 5 2010 article in The Daily Mail:
"The Lion Queen: The London woman who saved Africa's rare white lions from trophy hunters - and almost certain extinction."

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