Meet Thandile, Arguably Then Gauteng’s Most Special Lion Cub

She was spotted in July 1999 by a visitor to the Rhino & Lion Nature Reservenorth of Krugersdorp, and is one of only about 40 white lions known to exist. The cub had been abandoned by its mother and the visitor alerted two game guards, who brought the 750g ball of fur to the park’s owner, Ed Hern, where she was subsequently hand-reared.

The only reason the cub was spotted at all is because she is white,” he said. “But that very fact means she’ll never be able to hunt properly because she doesn’t have the camouflage.

“She’s not an albino. Albinos are white but have pink eyes and you can’t breed them. Tendile’s eyes are blue. Her colouring is the result of a recessive gene.”

These “bushveld ghosts” were first spotted in South Africa in 1928, but firm proof of their existence was not obtained until 1975, when a litter with two white cubs was observed at the Timbavati Game Reserve in the then Eastern Transvaal by researcher and conservationist Chris McBride. It is believed that all white lions can trace their lineage back to Timbavati.

If the recessive gene, which is similar to the gene that causes red hair in humans, is present in both the male and female of a normal-coloured mating pair, there is a 25 percent chance their offspring will be white.

“We knew we had the white gene among our lions because last year we picked up a halfeaten white cub,” Hern said. He plans to buy a male white lion for about R250 000 to breed with Thandile when she matures in two years’ time.For the moment, Thandile still has a lot of growing up to do, weighing approximately 70 kg out of an essential 170 kg.

The reserve, which last year has boasted the birth of 32 rare Cape hunting dogs, three cheetah cubs and a rhino, has just purchased two Bengal tigers, which should arrive this week and will be incorporated in a breeding programme.