Children of the Sun: White Lions of South Africa – By Hiwot Shiferaw

By Hiwot Shiferaw.

Biodiversity conservation is an aspect of environmental advocacy we must improve on in order to ensure a stable ecosystem. Biodiversity is critical to prevent dramatic climate changes, water degradation, ocean system collapse, food production, disease control, pollination, and many other environmental problems we face today. Currently, there is a spike in focus on saving the lions in Kenya, the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the Republic of Congo and Uganda, the African elephants in the South, and many more. Let’s go to South Africa, to learn a bit about the Children of the Sun and the program that is working to prevent their extinction.

The White Lion - Credit: Afranko.Com By Yasmin

The White Lion – Credit: Afranko.Com By Yasmin

Children of God is a name given to South Africa’s White Lions, who develop their color as a result of a rare mutation. The White Lions used to occur naturally in a specific distribution range in South Africa, Timbavati. However, after the lions were “discovered” by Europeans in the 1970s, White Lions were removed from the wild to staunch hunting operations. Since the mutation that causes the color change occurs because of a recessive gene, zoos around the world started to selectively breed them and modify their genetic variation, which depleted the gene pool. This has contributed to the drastic decline in the number of White Lions occurring naturally and ultimately a 12-year technical extinction in the wild. Even though most experts agree they are technically extinct, the lack of data has affected the way they are classified and protected. According to current classification, White Lions are considered vulnerable species. However, there are currently only 3 White Lions in the wild in their endemic range of Timbavati. Any White Lion born or reintroduced to the wild is not protected.

Currently there are few organizations working to reintroduce White Lions to the wild and create legal protection for them. One of such is the Global White Lion Protection Trust. The primary aim of the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLPT) is to re-establish White Lions within their natural distribution range in the way they once occurred naturally. The Trust takes a holistic approach: “in conserving the White Lion as an ‘apex predator’” which means that they first conserve its prey, but to conserve the prey species they have to protect their habitat, and in order to protect the habitat they involve and include the people that share that habitat. As a unique contribution to the biodiversity of the Greater Timbavati region – and as an animal that is revered by the indigenous people of the region – the White Lion must be protected. The genetic marker for the White Lion has now been determined in a ground-breaking collaborative study with international geneticists. In 2003, the Global White Lion Protection Trust (WLPT) initiated the first ever reintroduction of White Lions to their natural endemic range, Timbavati region in South Africa and have seen many successes. The long-term objective of the WLPT is “to restore the natural balance by reintroducing an integrated pride/s of white and tawny lions within their endemic range”, in hopes of protecting and increasing biodiversity in this area.

But beyond the White Lions, there are a few other species that Africa has lost to history because of changing environment and human activity. According to the Huffington Post, these species are now extinct.

The West African black rhinoceros, was a subspecies of the black rhino that was declared extinct in 2011. The subspecies last existed in Cameroon, but an extensive survey in 2006 did not find any signs of living West African black rhinos. This was the result of increased poaching and demand for rhino horn.

2nd pic

The Bubal Hartebeest, or Bubal antelope, was a subspecies of African antelope that lived in North Africa. The animals were hunted to extinction and the last known Bubal Hartebeest was killed in Algeria sometime between 1945 and 1954, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The Bubal Antelope

The Bubal Antelope

The Quagga was a subspecies of the common plains zebra and a native of South Africa. Known for its unique stripes, the Quagga was hunted for its hide and killed by ranchers who believed the animal competed with livestock for grazing area. The last known Quagga died at the Amsterdam Zoo in 1883.

The Quagga - Credit: Allan Wilson Center

The Quagga – Credit: Allan Wilson Center

The Dodo is an extinct flightless bird that was endemic to the island of Mauritius. Dodo was entirely fearless of humans. This fearlessness and its inability to fly made the Dodo easy prey for sailors.The last widely accepted record of a Dodo sighting is the 1662.


“George Edwards’ Dodo.” One of the most famous and often-copied paintings of a Dodo specimen, as painted by Roelant Savery in the late 1620s.


Hiwot grew up surrounded by the sound of censers, smell of incense, street markets, tea, smell of freshly roasted coffee, community gatherings and celebrations, where braids told history and outfits echo African self expression, prayer calls from mosques and churches, more languages spoken than one can understand, and soccer games on every street corner, Addis Abeba. Hiwot believes in an economic growth that support this life style, a truly African economy, that is sustainable and nurturing of the peoples culture, traditions, and the environment. Hiwot tweets from @hiwotsh and can be reached via e-mail at

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