Over time, predators across the globe have evolved to develop unique displays of camouflage to successfully stalk their prey. Tigers have developed stripes and move with stealth in long grass. Leopards have spots as they hunt in the dappled shadows of leaves. Lions, the majestic Kings of the African bush, are golden and tawny in colour, blending into the dry dusty earth and short grass. Every so often, nature creates something remarkable and completely unique…
For centuries there were rumours of white lions, as white as polar bears, appearing naturally in the African bush. This elusive rarity became a documented fact – only a few kilometres from Tanda Tula Safari Camp. The white lions of the Timbavati were first discovered by Chris McBride on the Tanda Tula property in the late 1970s. While he was studying the white lions, Chris and his wife Charlotte helped build and set up Tanda Tula Safari Camp in its initial phase of development. The first pride to produce white lion cubs was the Machaton Pride, a pride that still exists today, and their core territory continues to be based on the Tanda Tula Safari Camp property.
Our White Lions
A white lion is a normal healthy lion which displays the effects of a recessive gene known as the chinchilla or color inhibitor. The condition displayed is known as “leucism’ and is distinct from albinism. They are not albinos and have normal eyes. In fact, white lions are born from tawny parents – ‘normal’ lions – who carry the recessive white lion gene.
In October of 1975 Chris McBride, an avid wildlife enthusiast, made an amazing discovery when he found the first known naturally occurring white lions in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve.
Chris McBride spent several years studying the Machaton pride and discovered the white lions by complete chance. These cubs were located a mere 8km (5 miles) from the original Tanda Tula Safari Camp. Chris’s discovery caused a stir amongst wildlife enthusiasts and was considered nothing short of remarkable.
A few months earlier, Chris had been tracking the Machaton pride and was one day fortunate enough to witness and document two members of the Machaton pride, Agamemnon and Tabby, mating in the Timbavati. What Chris didn’t know at the time was that he was actually witnessing one of nature’s special events, the very conception of the white lion cubs, as Tabby went on to give birth to Temba and Tombi a few months later.
For many months after Temba and Tombi were discovered it was believed that these two cubs were a unique and once-off occurrence. Until one day in August 1976,when Chris had been working at Tanda Tula Safari Camp, he discovered another pure white lion, born to a different lioness. The white lion cub was six months old when Chris first made the sighting and once again the world took notice.
The White Lions of the Timbavati
As is evident from the current existence of four white lions in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, white lions do indeed occur naturally, without the interventions of humans through breeding programs.
In 1977, McBride released a book entitled ‘The White Lions of the Timbavati’, where he captured the discovery of these magnificent animals whose genetics challenged the norms of nature and evolution. In the final sentence of the preface of this book it is written, ‘’so it looks as if the story of the white lions of Timbavati is only just beginning’’. How true those words are, as over the years numerous white lions have continued to be sited in the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, much to the excitement of wildlife enthusiasts around the world.
Today four white lions can be seen in the Timbavati area, from two different prides. Two are members of the Giraffe pride and two are of the Xhakubasa pride. The most recent sighting have been of the Giraffe Pride who operate in the western-most section of our traversing area, while the Xhakubasa Pride are rarely seen today as they operate in the far northern regions of the reserve.
Although they remain to be an extremely rare occurrence, we can expect more cubs to appear in the Timbavati and surrounding reserves, which form part of the Greater Kruger National Park. At times, guests of Tanda Tula Safari Camp are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of these remarkable animals. Each sighting is a breathtaking experience, and we are all truly fortunate to be able to witness these extraordinary creatures in their natural habitat.
White Lions, like all wildlife, are immensely valuable to our ecosystems. It is only through conservation of our delicate ecology that we may preserve the environment that supports the continued beauty of the African wilderness. Through education and preservation, we can ensure that future generations will have examples of nature’s marvels, such as the white lion, to behold.
Please note: Although our guests are occasionally fortunate enough to witness white lion sightings, these are extremely rare and we cannot guarantee that you will see white lions during your visit to the Timbavati.