A zoo in Omaha is celebrating the arrival of its new “mane” attraction: a rare white lion cub.
“He looks like a snowball,” Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium Director Dennis Pate told the Omaha World-Herald.
The white male cub is just one of three cubs born. The adorable arrivals fur is completely white, which is a trait that has been linked to a rare recessive gene from each of his parents.
“Only about one in four cubs with those genes express them through a white coat,” Pate said.
There are just a handful of white lions in the world. They all hail from Timbavati, which is an area inside the Krueger National Park in South Africa.
Tribes that live in that region believe that the white lions are the spirits of their ancestors, reports the New York Daily Mail.
The cubs’ mother, who is a first-time mom named Ahadi, is 6-years-old and weighs 335 pounds. The father of the cubs, Mr. Big, is 15-years-old 560 pounds. He has been separated from Ahadi and the cubs.
The lioness and her sister, aunt Mfisha, who shares their habitat, are extremely protective of the little ones.
“It’s always fun thing to watch the mom take care of her kids. To me, they’re three average kids,” Pate said.
Ahadi and the cubs are enjoying private mommy and baby time. They will be made available for public viewing soon.
Only four U.S. zoos have a white lion, Toledo, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and the Capron Park Zoo in Massachusetts. Omaha’s new arrival is the first white male lion in the western United States, reports Daily Mail.
The cubs came into the world on November 21. The white cub has a brother and two sisters.
Europeans first discovered white lions in 1938, though their existence was not well known until the 70s, when naturalist Chris McBride published two books on them.
Although the white mutation most likely evolved millennia ago, conservationists fear that white lions will not survive in the wild. Most of the white lions in the seventies were rounded up and sold to a zoo that is if they were not killed by hunters first. Hunters pay high dollar to slaughter lions, especially a rare white lion.
“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,” Pate said.
It’s a hard life being so young and this rare white cub and his brother and sisters are very busy practicing their play fighting and working on terminal cuteness.