Monday, December 22, 2014 03:24

Your Help Is Needed Today

Conservation

The primary aim of the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLT http://www.whitelions.org/) is to re-establish White Lions in their natural distribution range, in the way they once occurred naturally and in strict accordance with current scientific methods.

The White Lions natural habitat is at the epicenter of one of the world’s most important natural game regions: KRUGER TO CANYON BIOSPHERE, declared by the United Nations as the ‘third largest biosphere region in the world’. As a unique contribution to the biodiversity of this region – and as iconic animal revered by the indigenous people here and around the globe – the White Lion must be protected for future generations.

Not Albino

The White Lions of this region are not albinos (Cruikshank and Robinson 1997), but a genetic rarity of Panthera leo, which occurred naturally in one location only on earth. They are one of the rarest and most endangered animals in Africa. Born in the Timbavati region at the centre of the Kruger to Canyon Biosphere, they were artificially removed because of their beauty and rarity, and became technically extinct for nearly two decades before the Global White Lion Protection Trust initiated a world-first re-establishment of White Lions within their unique endemic range, based on successful reintroduction techniques of social bonding White Lions with resident wild tawny lions of the region. We have successfully re-established two prides of high genetic integrity that are hunting self-sufficiently in their natural endemic habitat.

Genetic Marker

Unfortunately, trophy hunting still takes place in the White Lions’ natural distribution range and the captive breeding in unethical / canned hunting operations has put the genetic pool under duress. To date, the genetic marker for the White Lions has not been established. The Global White Lion Protection Trust has therefore embarked on ground-breaking research to identify this rare genetic code, in collaboration with international genetic specialists in South Africa as well as in the UK and USA. Preliminary genetic studies were done in collaboration with Swansea University (UK) and more recently collaboration has been initiated with the National Cancer Institute-Frederick Research Foundation (USA). This research will be used to classify the White Lion as genetically distinct and therefore provides a necessary foundation to have the White Lions listed on CITES, the Schedule of Threatened and Protected Animals of National Importance and IUCN Red Data List.

Unfortunately, the orthodox view of many scientists in South Africa has led them to be slow in recognizing the importance of these unique variants (“regional polymorphisms”), and thereby made our urgent efforts for their protection all the more challenging. The Global White Lion Protection Trust is following the international precedent of the Kermode Bear (Ursus americanus kermodei) in British Columbia (Western Canada), whereby this rare white variant of the Black Bear (Ursus americanus) has been declared a critically endangered subspecies due to its conservation and cultural value, such that the Kermode Bear is being used as a flagship species for protecting a 4000 000 ha wilderness area. As with the Kermode Bear, by protecting the white lions the entire lion population within their endemic area will be protected – since the white gene is within the tawny lion population the entire lion population would be declared a protected subpopulation / subspecies.

Preserving Genetic Integrity

Trophy hunting still takes place in the White Lions’ natural distribution range and the captive breeding in canned hunting operations has put the genetic pool under duress. The WLT’s Scientific Research Centre has acquired key individual White Lions of the highest genetic integrity to participate in the genetic research and preservation program. The WLT initiated the White Lion Protection Plan™ , and presented this survival plan to the South African Parliament in February 2008. The outcome was extremely positive, with the Parliamentary Committee resolving to support the WLT’s conservation efforts. A copy of the parliamentary presentation is available on www.pmg.org.za.

Declare the White Lions a Protected Animal

In 2002, the Global White Lion Protection Trust initiated the White Lion Protection Plan™. Since commercial lion trophy hunting has reached an all-time record, we have appealed to the South African government to declare the White Lion as a protected animal, at least within their natural habitat of the Timbavati Region.

The White Lions are not only of national importance, they are a global heritage. All conservation issues today are global issues – and it is not the decision of private landowners or individual governments, for that matter, to decide whether a species or variant lives or perishes. With many species, including many of the big cats, on the brink of extinction, immediate international conservation measures need to be implemented to ensure their survival. In many cases there are no longer viable populations in the wild and carefully conducted scientific ‘rewilding / reintroduction programs’ are necessary. It is the intention of the Global White Lion Protection Trust that our initiative in re-establishing and having the White Lions protected within their natural distribution range, will act as a precedent to assist related causes to save critically endangered species, subspecies or variants.

JASON TURNER
LION ECOLOGIST, GLOBAL WHITE LION PROTECTION TRUST
MSc Wildlife Management