Aug 082017
 

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

The news about African lions is usually dire these days, as the species dwindles across its range. But Thiessen K. Musaah from Nakuru, Kenya, gave us a welcome break with his question about coat color.

Why, he asked, are lions in South Africa’s Kruger National Park “fawn to golden white” while their kin in the Kenya and Tanzania are “fawn to golden brown?”

A known genetic mutation can create what’s known as a “white lion,” which is technically lighter brown, not truly white, says Leslie Lyons, a feline geneticist at the University of Missouri.

Though some might think these lions are albino, they’re not—true albinos are unable to produce any kind of pigment, hence their white coloration and pink eyes: Blood vessels normally masked by eye color show through.

The gene is “like blue eyes in a population of Caucasians. A few people have them, but most don’t,” adds Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center at the University of Minnesota and a National Geographic Society grantee.

Photographing any lions in the wild is a treat, but to photograph one of only three known, naturally occurring, wild white lions was a dream come true. One afternoon I found these lions approaching a waterhole after finishing off their giraffe kill. I was extremely lucky to have them line up for me at the water’s edge.

Inbred Cats

But this white gene may put lions at a disadvantage—for instance, the predators may look more conspicuous as they sneak up on prey, says Boone Smith, an independent big cat researcher based in Idaho.

So over time, if these white lions are not able to successfully hunt, “the white genome simply fades out,” he says.

But that doesn’t mean they’ll never turn up again.

“Just because a trait is not visible does not mean it is not in the genes,” Smith says. If a male and female carrying the same recessive gene mate, that unusual coloration may show up in a cub—though it’s quite rare.

Lyons notes that recessive traits can become more prevalent in areas where inbreeding occurs, such as Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater.

Big cats in the crater, which is nearly 2,000 feet deep and about 116 square miles wide, are isolated from most other lions and have some health issues, such as abnormal sperm, Packer says.

The Mane Affair

While we’re on the subject of lion colors, manes can also vary in hue from light brown to black.

Though mane color can also be genetic, environmental factors also play a role.

A Riveting Encounter with a Rare Black-Maned Lion

“Normal lions produce more melanin in their mane hair in certain circumstances, [such as] when they are producing more testosterone, when they are better fed, when they are not heat-stressed,” says Packer,

who led a 2002 study on mane coloration.

Those dark manes make the males hotter in more ways than one: Females show a strong preference for longer, darker manes, possibly because it’s a sign of higher testosterone and better health.

But don’t think manes are only for males: Though uncommon, maned lionesses have been regularly sighted in the Mombo area of Botswana’s Okavango Delta.

This article was first published by National Geographic on 29 Jul 2017

 

Subscribe to our FREE Newsletter

 

 

Share this post with your friends

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  




Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

avatar
Dulce Aguilar

Woooooow . So beautiful

Barry Frederick Baudains

They seem to be the ones the killers want as a trophy the sick bstd.

wpDiscuz

Top-Viewed Posts Last 30 Days

  1. POLL: Should the MOTV trophy hunting channel be closed down? [1721 Views]
  2. POLL: Should the trophy hunting of lions be banned? [1589 Views]
  3. POLL: Should there be a tough crack down on the killing of raptors? [1246 Views]
  4. POLL: Should captivity for all killer whales be banned? [1213 Views]
  5. POLL: Should the keeping of dolphins in captivity be banned? [1196 Views]
  6. POLL: Should trophy hunting be banned? [1159 Views]
  7. POLL: Should elephants be kept in captivity? [1083 Views]
  8. POLL: Should the pangolin slaughter in Africa be banned? [883 Views]
  9. Karma? Another Trophy Hunter Has Been Killed by an Elephant [731 Views]
  10. POLL: Should the culling of Scotland’s mountain hares be banned? [719 Views]

Top-Viewed Posts Last 12 Months

  1. POLL: Should there be a worldwide ban on fur farms? [16951 Views]
  2. Gray Squirrels versus Red Squirrels – The Facts [9264 Views]
  3. POLL: Should foxes be culled to protect domestic pets? [3796 Views]
  4. POLL: Should Congress disband Wildlife “Killing” Services? [3084 Views]
  5. POLL: Should the cruel sport of bullfighting be banned? [2871 Views]
  6. POLL: Should the sale of elephant ivory be legalized? [2781 Views]
  7. POLL: Should Canada ban the hunting of seals? [2665 Views]
  8. POLL: Should the Tories be allowed to bring back fox hunting? [2574 Views]
  9. POLL: Should wild elephants be sold to Chinese zoos? [2321 Views]
  10. POLL: Should Japan be sanctioned for slaughtering Minke whales? [2239 Views]