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What Are White Lions?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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White lions, technically known as Panthera leo krugeri, are an incredibly rare type of lion that are light cream or white in color instead of brown; however, they are typically the same as standard lions in all other physical aspects. The color is the result of a genetic condition, and they can be born to standard lions or those with this genetic condition, either naturally or due to humans breeding them for this color to increase their dwindling numbers. These animals are native to Southern Africa, and tend to be most active at night. Like all lions, they typically live and hunt in groups of two or more, and they prefer large mammals as a food source.

The primary difference between a white lion and a standard lion is the color of his or her coat. Like the standard lion, white lions typically live for 10 to 20 years, depending on whether they grow up in the wild or in captivity. Males have a large, distinctive off-white to white mane, similar to the color of their coats, while female lions typically have little to no distinguishable hair in this area. Females can weigh up to 400 pounds (182 kilograms) when fully grown, while males can reach up to 550 pounds (250 kilograms).

A genetic condition known as leucism is typically the cause for the unique color of white lions, and a cub born to two standard-colored lions can develop this disorder. Leucism is caused by a recessive gene that can be passed down from either the mother or father. While lions may appear to be albino, a condition that occurs when an animal’s skin or hair lacks pigment, this is rarely the case. The vast majority have normal pigmentation in the skin and eyes; it is only the fur that is a different color.

In the wild, they are usually born to two standard lions, as there are typically not enough white lions in the wild for two to mate. A few sanctuaries around the world specifically breed them in an attempt to preserve this rare creature. Due to the unique color of their coats, white lions are often prized by poachers and were purposefully killed off by humans for several centuries. For this reason, it is incredibly rare for one to be found in the wild.

The natural home of the white lion is Southern Africa, specifically the Timbavati game reserve near the Kruger National Park. Bordered by Zimbabwe and Mozambique, white lions in this area sleep for most of the day and hunt at night, often just as the sun is rising or setting. In the wild, white lions travel in pairs or as part of a pride with other lions of any color. Prides typically consist of two males and an assortment of females and cubs, and the white lions feed on zebras, buffalo, and wildebeest, which are hunted by the females.

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