Thursday, March 15, 2012

Creature Feature: Kimba!

Those of you who are old and/or nerdy enough may remember Osamu Tezuka's classic cartoon, Kimba the White Lion. (It's the same thing as Leo the Lion.)  Basically, the series was about a white lion cub who escaped from a poacher's ship, went back to Africa, and became king of the beasts. He proceeded to nudge everybody into getting along, even though, given the nature of some beasts, many of his solutions would never work. Hell, he even tried to patch up the human-animal rift. Yes, this is still the cartoon that people have accused Disney of basing The Lion King off of.

But surely a white lion like that would never survive, right? Yeah, it's still got teeth and claws, but white animals rarely make the cut in nature...

...except in this case. Not only do white lions exist, there is a whole population of white African lions.

First off, let me make a few things clear about lions in general:

1. Lions are primarily savannah hunters. Sure, the name card reads "King of the Jungle," but they're mostly in places with not a lot of trees. The females do the hunting, the males tend to sit there being fabulous.

2. Lions have harems. No matter how touching Simba and Nala were in The Lion King, Simba had hookers. Lions will kill the cubs of another male just to make sure their own young survive. Hell, I've heard of male lions killing their own cubs just to bring a lioness into heat again.

3. The only place lions and tigers have ever met in the wild would possibly be in India. Rule of thumb is lions = Africa, tigers = Asia. Europe also had lions at one point. Europe had a lot of cool things at one point.

That said, wild white lions are a morph of Krueger's lion, a subspecies of lion (Panthera leo krugeri) native to Timbavati, South Africa. They are usually found on reserves, but some wild specimens have been reported. Several zoos also boast white lions in their collection. Trust me, you'll know if your zoo has one; they usually put it on the news. 

The gene that creates white lions is, once again, the chinchilla mutation. I have heard so many things about this gene that I do not know what to believe anymore. Whatever it is, it's apparently the same 'white' gene found in tigers, meaning that it's either leucism or not quite albinism. Supposedly, this gene was proven to not be albinism in 1997, but even says that there are still some genetic uncertainties concerning these big cats. Nobody has yet attempted a white liger, but if they did, it would be interesting to see how the two genes intersected. 

White lions have a surprising range of shades. Their coats can range anywhere from very pale tan ("blond") to snow white. They can have eyes that are hazel, green, or blue. The most stunning specimens are, of course, pure white with blue eyes. This is uncommon in the wild, but can be bred in captivity.

Kimba was not available for comment.

Despite being a white morph of one of the world's most revered animals, none remain in the wild (outside of preserves). The first sighting of a white lion occurred in 1938. Since then, numerous specimens were taken to zoos and hunted because "DUDE it's a white lion!" The last wild (non-reserve) specimen was seen in 1994. They were doing just fine before their 'discovery' if ancient African folklore is anything to go by.

(Now I'm wondering: would any of you like a week's worth of "La Vie En Blanche?" There are so many awesome white animals out there. Some of them just look cool; others have cultural significance like the Shirohebi.)

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