Conservation in focus with white lions

White lions at AWPR were transported from Cape Town in November. (SUPPLIED)

Two extremely rare white lions have gone on show at the Al Ain Wildlife Park and Resort (AWPR).

The animals are a gift from the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in South Africa, and an AWPR official said they were conservation ambassadors calling attention to the urgent need to protect the African lion from extinction.

Fifty years ago, the lion population exceeded 450,000 – but today only 20,000 survive in the wild.

Animal Collection Manager Farshid Mehrdadfar said: "The white lions are ambassadors for their wild cousins. We are trying to showcase the essence of the lion as a predator and a carnivore and talk about the issues related to the conservation of lions throughout Africa and how all of us can help protect the animal, its environment and animals in general."

Not long ago the African lion's range spread from South Africa to the Atlas Mountains in North Africa, and from Mesopotamia to India. Today, due to hunting, habitat loss and conflict with herdsmen, wild African lions are mostly found only on African wildlife reserves.

"Wild populations are collapsing and we're losing the African lion," said Dr Mike Maunder, AWPR's Chief Conservation, Collection and Education Officer. "We fear that wild lions will only survive in a few protected areas. The white lions at AWPR help us to highlight the plight of the lion in Africa, the loss of the lion in the rest of the world and the need to conserve species and ecosystems."

The white lions are not albino – their hair and skin pigmentation is caused by the presence of a recessive gene known as chinchilla or colour inhibitor. The eyes, paw pads and skin have a bluish hue. White lions were first documented in 1972 at the Krueger national park in South Africa, though legend and folklore suggest they have existed for many centuries.

The white lions at AWPR were transported to the UAE by passenger aircraft from Cape Town, South Africa in late November. The 18-month-olds are brother and sister. In addition to its desert antelope conservation efforts, AWPR is leading several carnivore conservation initiatives including work with sand cats, Arabian leopards, and African lions.

 

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