Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Return of the White Lion

Just in time to give some perspective on Linda Tucker's book, Mystery of the White Lions, the Nat Geo Wild channel re-ran (and will again on July 27) a one-hour program about Linda Tucker's Global White Lion Protection Trust and the efforts to re-introduce white lions to the Timbavati region of South Africa.

The key to the success of the project is obtaining governmental protection for the white lions. The main obstacle to this is money. Shooting white lions, either in the bush or in a tiny escape-proof enclosure (canned hunting) is big, big business -- idiots of the world will pay as much as $150,000 for the privilege of hanging a dead white lion's head on their wall.

(In Tucker's book, she quotes an African saying that says, kill a white lion and you lose your soul. In my opinion, such a person didn't have one to begin with. But I digress.)

Official objections come in the form of "why just white lions? all lions need protection", and this is certainly true as stated. But--and the objectors surely know this--the white lion makes a good poster animal for the project, and once protection for them can be secured, it will be easier to expand protection to all lions. After all, regular-colored lions can be carriers of the white gene.

It is perfectly logical to focus on the re-introduction and protection of white lions since people have been focusing on their destruction for decades. People's fascination with them is a perfect stepping stone to getting attention focused on all lions, which are not protected in any way even though their population is being exterminated rapidly. Not just for trophies, but for such things as satiating China's craving for tiger bone wine--tigers are protected, lions are not, so lion-bone wine is used as a substitute.

One scientist pooh-poohs one of the project's hopes -- getting white lions classified as a sub-species -- calling the concept of sub-species "arbitrary and artificial". But so is the whole classification system. Take any definition of "species" that you want, and you can find officially-recognized examples that don't fit it.

As presented in the TV show, the White Lion Trust seems to be worthwhile, well-planned, and thorough. I can't help but wonder what's currently going on with it, however, since the show was produced in 2008 and their web site mostly has not been updated since 2008.

In the previous post in which I critcized Tucker's book, I was reacting to the book's emphasis on so-called "new-age" spiritual concepts and her failure to present them in a convincing, coherent manner. In her exploration of the white lions' history, Tucker talks about extraterrestrials, unknown underground rivers, prehistoric gold refineries, pyramids, constellations, symmetry between northern and southern Africa, transmigration of souls, and more, in a manner that I found more confusing than enlightening. And I wanted to be enlightened, especially since at least one of the topics (transmigration) is near and dear to me.

But the White Lion Trust appears to be a very impressive endeavor and worthy of success. They need to get the word out to the public about their mission and the several very beautiful lions they are working with.


  1. As late as this comment is...

    I watched this program, and I have to say that I quite agree with protecting all of the lions rather than just the white ones. After all, they do carry the genes while keeping the "White" lion very special. From the looks of the white lion, breeding a male and female white lion pretty much guarantee most of the offspring will be white. At that point, the "normal" colored lion would be more of the uniqe ones. I do not know if I am correct, but I'm sure you could tell me? If that is so then the whole point in the tales and legends of the White Lion being from the heavens; a celestial creature, sort of loses it's point.

    And I would like to say to the "farmer" who farmed lions for what was a kind of caged hunting who said, "You tell me the difference between a Lion and a chicken."
    Well, honestly, the difference between not only what you were doing to the Lions and farming, much less a chicken and a lion, is the fact that the chicken can bring you life by eating it, or the eggs. A chicken won't bring you in much income if you were to sell it or the egg.
    Now, what he was doing was pure selfish. Killing a lion, a white one at that, to sell just the fur or head or stuff it, for a $150,000 heavier wallet... Well, that seems to be a difference. I really don't believe he would be doing much of using all parts of a lion. If he mentioned that, I'm sorry I missed it.. but..

    (Oh, and me and my friend were wondering. Are white tigers more abundant than a white lion? She figured there were more white tigers than white lions. At least more "common" although we know white tigers are not common anyway.)

    Even more off topic, I like the way you write. I think YOU should write a book. :)

  2. Taking your points in order...

    The gene that produces a white lion is recessive, which means that both parents must have it to produce a white cub; two white genes on a particular pair of chromosomes. But if a lion has just one gene for the tawny color, it will override the white gene. So you can't tell by looking whether a tawny lion carries the gene. Also, two tawny carriers could still have all tawny cubs, some of which may be carriers and some not. And any pairing of a tawny and a white parent may or may not produce white cubs. It's sort of like red hair among humans. It's not going to become a majority trait unless some significant artificial selection is done for the trait.

    The question of lion farms is a complex one that I'm not going to be able to sort out in one paragraph. I would never shoot a lion, either on a farm or in the bush. I have seen the person behind the eyes of more than one lion, and spent happy hours in the company of lions. I do not understand the reasons behind the mentality of trophy hunting, be it lions or deer or whatever, but the people who have it don't see the animal as anything more than a thing for them to possess. And $150k is a powerful incentive to do something, even in a wealthy country. The only way I see to end it is to change people's desire for the trophies.

    The farmer's analogy is flawed in that he compares killing for trophies to killing for food -- although I know some would contend both are equally wrong. I cannot argue that there is any less of a person behind the eyes of a chicken, yet I will admit that I find them delicious. If this is moral hypocrisy, I can only say in my defense that no one claims a lion is immoral for killing for food. Food is necessary, trophies are not. Farming methods are another matter; they can be unnecessarily cruel as has been demonstrated in the cases of both lions and chickens; fortunately the situation for the latter is changing, if too slowly.

    I can't find exact numbers for white lions and white tigers in captivity; the number reported sighted in the wild is pretty much the same for both (about a dozen). Both have been bred in captivity for their audience-drawing power, although tigers seem to get more attention because their stripes make them more impressive. Some claim that all white tigers in captivity derive from one white tiger and the inbreeding has been detrimental to today's white tigers. I have not looked into the breeding history of white tigers. I am aware of at least a couple of white lion breeding programs that have carefully avoided inbreeding. Thus I would guess that health problems would limit the number of white tigers but I don't have the numbers.

    Thank you for the compliment. I do feel I should write a book, but I haven't figured out how to organize the subject matter in a way people will find agreeable.