White Lions

panthera leo melanochait


White Lions a Myth

For over 150 years the entire Western world thought White Lions were a myth much like a unicorn or Bigfoot. Safaris looking for White Lions date back to the early 1800s and all returned without ever seeing a trace of a White Lion. Unsuccessful Europeans returning from African safaris cemented the idea that the stories of white lions were nothing more than folklore. The fanciful nature of those ancient stories may have also contributed to the idea that White Lions were nothing more than part of a myth. In those stories, white lions were considered children of the Sun God that were sent to earth and bring peace to a new world order.

White Lions Today

White Lions continued to be known by the western world only as mythical creatures for most of the 20th century.  Even after 1928 when the first modern reports of white lions were made public by the local people, the modern world continued to think white lions were a myth or extinct. This belief persisted in western countries well into the 1970s when the first known photographs of a white lion were published.

White lions are now known to appear in natural populations in a very small area of Africa in and around the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve located on the western edge of Kruger National Park.  The name ‘Timbavati’ means “the place where something sacred came down to Earth from the Heavens”, and refers to the rare white lions of Timbavati. Still to this day, Local people in the area considered white lions a sacred gift from the heavens. People travel from all around the world to try to get a glimpse at these exceedingly rare cats. There are only 10-12 white lions known to be living in the wild.


White lions are not albino. They are not a separate subspecies but are an exceedingly rare color variant. They are leucistic and lack color genetically. The odds of a lion being born white are less than your chance of winning a lottery but they are a naturally occurring phenomenon. The leucistic trait is caused by a recessive gene responsible for the production of melanin. They have different eye colors ranging from gold to blue.

At one time it was thought there were as many as 11 separate species of lions. Only two subspecies are recognized today. Panthera leo leo and the Panthera leo melanochait, which white lions belong to. Plumpton Park Zoo is one of less than 20 zoos in the United States to have white lions. We are proud to help with the education and preservation of this vulnerable species. Plumpton Park Zoo has begun conservation efforts for lions in cooperation with several other zoological facilities.


The lion is a hypercarnivore and is considered to be both an apex and keystone predator due to its wide prey spectrum. Its prey primerally consists of many spieces hoofstock from 400–1,200 lb They often hunt in groups called a pride. 


Size: 5 1/2 – 7 feet in length
Weight: 260-390 lb
Lifespan: 8-15 years in the wild.