The cub was born on July 15 at the Ellen Trout Zoo in Lufkin, Texas. “They told me it was white,” zoo director Gordon Henley tells local news outlet WBTV. “I just couldn’t believe it, but it sure is white.” The cub is the second offspring of Adia, a female African lion. Celia Falzone, the zoo curator, says both parents are normal colored, and the gene that turns a lion’s fur white is recessive. The lighter color is a natural mutation, so white lions do exist in the wild, but they are rare.
White lions were first spotted in the wild in 1938, but they weren’t officially documented until the 1970s. Today, about 13 white lions reside in their natural habitats in South Africa. Estimates say there are less than 300 white lions held in captivity.
Keepers at the Ellen Trout Zoo are limiting human interaction with the cub and don’t have a plan for when they’ll introduce it to the public. Adia wasn’t able to fully care for her first cub, Sango, because she was distracted by the environment and couldn’t produce milk. The zoo’s veterinarian has been away, so the sex of the animal hasn’t been identified. Once zookeepers know whether the cub is male or female, they’ll begin the naming process.
According to a press release posted on the zoo’s Facebook page, one white cub was born a couple years ago but turned to a normal coloration after six months. It’s unclear if this new cub will remain snowy white.
“I think it’s pretty exciting that we had the birth, and that it’s white, but I hope people are patient about when we let them see it in captivity,” Falzone tells WBTV. “We will get the cub out when it’s ready.”