A four-month-old white lion cub cuddles up to its father Sam inside their enclosure at a zoo in Tbilisi. White lions are native to the wildlife reserves in South Africa and in zoos around the world. Their white color is caused by a recessive trait derived from a less-severe mutation in the same gene that causes albinism, distinct from the gene responsible for white tigers. They vary from blonde to near-white.
White lions first came to public attention in the 1970s in Chris McBride's book The White Lions of Timbavati. Up until 2009, when the first pride of white lions was reintroduced to the wild, it was widely believed that the white lion could not survive in the wild and thus a large part of the population of white lions now reside in zoos.
White lions are not a separate subspecies and are thought to be indigenous to the Timbavati region of South Africa for centuries, although the earliest recorded sighting in this region was in 1938. They are considered divine by the locals.