A rare white lion cub was spotted earlier this month in South Africa’s Ngala Private Game Reserve.
Lyle Bruce McCabe, a field guide at the reserve, told National Geographic he was watching a male lion sleep in a riverbed when he heard the what sounded like the squeaky roar of a newborn lion cub.
“I moved closer to the bank to investigate, and we saw the small head of a lion cub roll out from its mother’s teat,” he said. The white lion is one of four cubs in the litter, according to a blog post by Sun Safaris.
White lions are rare, but they’re not unheard of. They’re also not albino. These fairer-colored Panthera leo are actually considered leucistic, a condition where there is a partial loss of pigmentation in an animal. Leucism is an inherited characteristic where both parents must possess a recessive mutation in a gene that makes colored pigments. These elusive lions are reportedly only wild to the Timbavati and Kruger nature reserves in South Africa.
It’s not yet known how well white lions survive in the wild, or why they’re rarer than the classic tawny colored felines. In general, only about one out of every eight cubs will survive in the wild for a variety of reasons, including injuries, lack of food, illness, and infanticide.
White lions may be unusual, but they’re not their own species or subspecies, Panthera senior lion program director Paul Funston told National Geographic. He also says they’re also not classified as “critically endangered,” despite recent media outlets reporting otherwise. Panthera leo is however listed as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List.
“There is a lot of misinformation that’s been fed into society about white lions and what white lions are,” said Funston.
All things aside, you have to admit this little one is ridiculously cute.
[H/T National Geographic]