Gallery: White Lions of Timbavati

With the CITES CoP17 World Wildlife Conference taking place in Johannesburg from 24 September to 5 October 2016, we bring you a collection of images taken at the Global White Lion Protection Trust in Timbavati.

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Zukhara’s name is derived from the Egyptian sun god Ra. He is also named in honour of a tawny male that was trophy hunted in Timbavati. He has lived up to the name, becoming a confident and powerful apex predator.

Images by Varuna Jina Words by Shamin Chibba

The CITES CoP17 World Wildlife Conference is starting on Saturday, 24 September 2016 in Johannesburg and the fate of some of South Africa’s beloved animals will be decided during the 12-day event.

South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia have submitted a joint proposal to lift the ban on ivory trade, which could change the lives of elephants. At the opposing end, 29 African countries are proposing an end to endemic poaching of elephants and to put a stop to the decline in their numbers.

In another case are proposals to change the status of lions from endangered to a species not under threat.

So while policymakers will be discussing the fate of wildlife in air-conditioned auditoriums at the Sandton Convention Centre, the animals will still go about their day in the warm South African sun.

We present to you a collection of images from the Global White Lion Protection Trust in Timbavati, Limpopo. While the trust’s primary focus is on preserving the white lion, it cares for other animal and plant species in its vicinity too. The trust is proposing against changing the status of lions at CITES CoP17.

To find out more on the white lions and CITES, read:

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The sun rises over Timbavati. The Global White Lion Protection Trust is close to the Klasserie River, which founder trust lion ecologist Jason Turner says is the lifeblood of the area. Wildlife is suited to Timbavati, he explains. “So with nature restoring itself, the parks in the area are growing and the different species are all moving through as they should be.”

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Brothers Zukhara and Matsieng are inseparable, says Jason Turner, lion ecologist at the Global White Lion Protection Trust. Here, they were on the way to a hunt. They are marking scents along the way.

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Zebra form part of the ecology at the Global White Lion Protection Trust camp. Their presence, and the presence of other animals, is an indication that nature is slowly restoring the balance in Timbavati.

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Zukhara lounges in the morning sun after a night hunting for food.

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Zukhara and his brother, Matsieng, split up into what Jason Turner, the Global White Lion Protection Trust lion ecologist, calls a pincer formation. It is a hunting tactic that allows the brothers to envelope their prey, giving it little chance of escaping. The pair picks up the scent of a hunt about a kilometre away.

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Shangaan sangomas dance to appease the ancestors during a ceremony that called for the protection of white lions in Timbavati.

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At the elephant temple site at the Global White Lion Protection Trust, children wait to perform skits asking policymakers to make decisions that favour the lives of lions.

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Children stand in line to perform at the elephant temple. The Global White Lion Protection Trust is getting the Shangaan community, and particularly its children, to be the voice of the lions in hope of persuading policymakers to favour the lives of lions.

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The Global White Lion Protection Trust has created a wild environment suitable for white lions to thrive. This means introducing animals of other species into the reserve, such as this black-backed jackal.

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Jason Turner, the lion ecologist at the Global White Lion Protection Trust, uses radio telemetry to determine a lion’s proximity. When Turner and trust founder Linda Tucker introduced the white lions into the wild in 2002, scientists were sceptical they would adapt to hunt and be able to camouflage in the bushveld. Turner says the lions integrated quickly into the environment and are thriving.

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The skull of a blue wildebeest. The trust has numerous species of game, which are part of a holistic ecology that Linda Tucker is aiming for. Wildebeest are part of the white lions’ diet, which includes impala, wild hog and even porcupine.

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White lions are significant to Shangaan culture. The big cats are believed to be kings and queens of the past reborn.

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Linda Tucker, founder of the Global White Lion Protection Trust, roars for the crowd at one of the trust’s camps. Tucker has immersed herself in Shangaan culture, using their knowledge systems to communicate with lions.

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Founder of the Global White Lion Protection Trust Linda Tucker established the trust as a way to return white lions to the area and bring them back for the Shangaan people. The trust now has six white lions and three tawny females within its boundaries.

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Matsieng is one of four male white lions at the Global White Lion Protection Trust. According to the trust, he is known to be curious, playful and has an affinity for new lionesses, strutting around to peak their interest. His name means star warrior in Sepedi.

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Sangomas are said to be able to communicate with the lions in Timbavati. A sangoma, Maria Khosa, saved Linda Tucker, founder of the Global White Lion Protection Trust, and her friends from being lion prey in 1991. When the lions surrounded the van of tourists, Khosa appeared from nowhere and calmly made her way to the van, walking among the lions. The big cats calmed down and backed off.

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A typical male lion paw print. Male lion paws are larger and their toes more splayed than lionesses. Measurements taken from a lion’s paw print can also help Linda Turner, founder of the Global White Lion Protection Trust, guess its age. Such tracks can also help determine the direction the lion is headed.

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This tiny construction is a remnant of what was a farm before Linda Turner, founder of the Global White Lion Protection Trust, bought the land for the trust. It was a house for Joseph, a farm worker at the time. Today, the little house is empty and Joseph has been hired by the trust and given more dignified lodging at the camp.