Five white lion cubs have been born in the Ukraine, three in a safari park and two at a local zoo. They have since been brought together to be raised by zoo keepers at the Yalta Zoo.
The International Business Times reports that staff at the Yalta zoo were expecting normal, ordinary lion cubs from their sand-colored mother lioness. Instead, they received a huge shock when the cubs showed up pure white. Yalta Zoo veterinarian Alexander Dyakov stated:
“We expected that the cubs would be beige or straw-coloured, the natural colour lions, but we were really, really pleasantly surprised. That is, it’s a great rarity for Ukraine, for Europe, for the whole world, white lions are a real rarity. And we have two female lion cubs, absolutely healthy, absolutely strong. We wait for them to grow up and be exhibited.”
According to The Daily Mail, white lions are not actually albino. Like blue eyes in humans, the animals’ white color is actually caused by a recessive gene that must be shared by both parents. For right now, the animals are being raised in the zoo director’s office, because the tawny lioness mother was not able to produce enough milk to feed them.
White lions are actually only native to the Greater Timbavati region of South Africa, and have been regarded as sacred animals by the people of that region. The Global White Lion Protection Trust states, however, that after Europeans discovered their existence in the 1970s, many were taken to captive breeding and hunting operations. Because of this, and lion culling, the animals have technically been extinct in the wild for the past 12 years.
The Trust also believes that there are only about 300 white lions in existence now, making the birth of five in the Ukraine a historic event. InterFax reports that the zoo hopes to show the new white lion cubs off to the public in a little over a month.