On Wednesday, the Doorly National Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, Nebraska, announced the birth of a rare white lion cub as well as his more commonly-coated brother and sister, who were born to first time mother, 6-year-old lioness Ahadi, on November 21.
The cubs are fathered by the zoo’s 15-year-old male lion, Mr. Big. At present, Mr. Big is separated from the mother and their cubs, as lionesses are very protective of their litters. Neither parent is a white lion, and the little lion cub is not albino, says zoo director Dennis Pate. Instead, the lion’s color is the result of a rare recessive gene that is present in both parents. This recessive trait traces back to the Timbavati pack of lions in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Mothering duties of the cubs are shared with Ahadi’s sister, Mfisha, who are all on display together at this time. It is common for lionesses of the same pack to share mothering duties, and the zoo reports that if one lioness gets up to leave the cubs, the other lioness comes to lay with them until her return.
The cubs were born each weighing in at four pounds, a bit over the typical three pounds that is common for Timbavati lions at birth. This is likely due to the fact that the mother was in captivity throughout her pregnancy and consistently had enough food instead of having to hunt in the wild herself.
Ahadi weighs in at 335 pounds and Mr. Big at 560 pounds. The white male cub will likely be close to the size of his father at adulthood. Pate says the females take their mothering role very seriously.
“They’re so protective of those cubs right now. If one gets up, the other goes to sit with the cubs. It is unlikely they would allow the father to be near the cubs right now.”
While four other U.S. zoos have white lions – Philadelphia, Toledo, Cincinnati, and the Capron Park Zoo in Massachusetts, they are still considered rare and are prized by zoos and the public alike.
Pate said the lions were not bred to intentionally have a white lion as such circumstances cannot be orchestrated.
“These weren’t intentionally bred to produce a white lion – it’s just that this male and female each had this rare gene. It’s a circumstance that came together to produce this little guy.”
[Photo by Reuters]