Theater of Cruelty

Where white star lions came down from the sky

TRAVEL ESSAY / The white lions in South Africa became known in the world press in the seventies. But the white man's "discovery" of the white lion has now led these animals to the brink of extinction.


Our destination is Timbavati in the southernmost province of South Africa, Limpopo. We exit from the main road north of Hoedspruit and turn onto the dirt road Guernsey Road. The entrance is blocked. An armed guard with the "Anti-Poaching Unit" written on the shirt chest checks us before he opens the gate. The road continues between barbed wire fences to the right and left. Behind them, a giraffe head pops up every now and then. The area is dominated by strictly protected game farms, and the largest neighbor is Kruger National Park. We pass a sign with the inscription "Walk with Lions". Shortly after, we stop at an entrance area that has two electric gates, where a man with a safari jeep locks us in and takes us to the headquarters of the Global White Lion Protection Trust.

The living room, kitchen and seminar room are the only open space facing the campfire, where most meals are prepared over an open fire. We are welcomed by the director, Linda Tucker. With her partner, lion scientist Jason Turner, for the past eighteen years she has worked to give white lions a safe freedom here in Timbavati. After the world press learned about the white lions in the 70 century, the animals have been chased to the brink of extinction. Today, there are a few hundred in captivity, fewer than thirteen in freedom. In the books Mystery of the White Lions og Saving the White Lions Linda has written about what happened.

Legal death camps

We sit in the open jeep and track the lions, which are equipped with radio transmitters. The lion brothers Zukhara and Matsieng have been hiding well, but in the end we find them in the shade of a tree, side by side. A white adult male lion is even bigger than its golden relative and a sight for gods – literally. This is the place where white "star lions" came down from the sky, according to centuries-old belief. Because of the color, they represent "the majesty" and "the light of the gods." The rare and distinctive color has at the same time been their biggest problem and has led to a fateful fate: to spend life either in zoos, circus or safari farms. On the farms they are "quick-bred", with genetic damage as a result. The lion cubs are taken from the mother immediately after birth, and shortly thereafter they are shown to the tourists, who get to pat and cuddle with them. As they grow older, the domesticated animals can be trained to "socialize" the audience – to go with tourists who are delighted to get so close to a "wild" lion. When the animals can no longer be used for this, they are sent to slaughterhouses, where their bones become a commodity. And so it may happen that anyone who goes to an Asian country can suddenly sit with a glass of (fake) tiger wine in their hand, iced crumbled lion skeleton.

It is worth noting not only the white lions that suffer this fate: We count at least 8 lions bred in captivity in South Africa. There are more than twice the number of lions. It is estimated that around 000 lion skeletons are exported per year. Global delinquent trafficking in wildlife is estimated to have a profit of US $ 1 billion per year. Statisticians place this trade as the fourth most lucrative business on drugs, weapons and human trafficking.

In addition comes the so-called canned hunting»industry, with a practice of a very special nature: These are legal death camps. According to the Global March for Lions Association, more than 160 canned lion killing camps have been established in South Africa over the past twenty years. These places are often provided with adult lions from the same farms that attract tourists of the type who will "pat the lion cubs". The male lion is most sought after and gives the highest boasting factor to the hunter who traps him. The lion is baptized and lured with bait. And when he is at gunpoint, he – the king of animals himself – is a helpless victim.

Some hundred white lions live in captivity, fewer than thirteen in freedom.

We consider the two inseparable brothers, where they lie and enjoy their freedom – an exclusivity they are happily unaware of. Afterwards, we ask the researcher Jason for a more detailed explanation: Why are there no more than a handful of lions living in freedom here, where they belong? "Because they have everyone against them, even the majority of scientists." The white lions are considered "naturalists", with a genetic defect. They cannot camouflage themselves in the landscape, which is why they apparently should not be able to hunt and survive in the open air. Linda and Jason disproved this theory when they set out on their 1-acre tract of white lions that had spent several years in captivity. The lions became self-sufficient in a short time and formed families.

A bigger picture

The lions under the tree enjoy the sun's last rays before strolling on to look for supper. We do the same. Around the lapa, African casseroles are made, and a special guest has joined us – the Indian chief Francois Paulette from Canada. He has traveled for two days to visit his friends in Timbavati. Paulette is a helpful ally. Jason explains: “It's about the law's protection and relevant examples to give animals, land and culture an intrinsic value. In British Columbia, a research team has worked with the so-called Spirit Bear. Like the white lion, the white spirit bear is a unique genetic variation of the black bear. Just as the white lion only appears here in Timbavati, the spirit bear can only be found there – in the temperate rainforest of British Columbia. And as with the white lion, the scientists believe that the white fur of the spirit bear is the result of a divergent gene. "


Chief Paulette complements: “The spirit bear has great cultural significance for kitazo-people and are now protected by law. 220 hectares of land have been set aside as a protected area. It has become a flagship for the further protection of 000 acres of wilderness, The Great Bear Rainforest.»

The next day we are back with the lions. We have found another branch of the "royal family" – Mandla, Zhira and daughter Nebu. It is November spring and the grass is green. It shines in chalk white fur. Neither golden nor white lions intertwine with the landscape here, but it has obviously not been a hindrance to the hunt: Mandla has acquired a succulent pork, which he enjoys in peace while the ladies wait for a ride, all according to the species' house rules.

Wild animal trade has a profit of at least $ 23 billion per year.

In the midst of this idyll, there is a question Linda must answer. With her controversial life project, she finds herself in a continuous battle zone, which is not just about differences of opinion and strong financial interests. She also has the entire "canned hunting" lobby against her. There have been threats against her person, followed by vulgar shooters of the type: «Do not come here and waste our time with African voodoo, bitch! Who do you think you are, huh? ”

What drives Linda Tucker, a former employee in the advertising industry, to never give up on a project that costs so much personal power and willingness to sacrifice, and is often neglected by people who think they know better? The answer comes as she watches the lion's adorable siesta: “For me personally, this became a life project after a we were healed – a medicine woman from the tsonga people – saved my life once I was surrounded by raging lions in the bush. I have described this thoroughly in my books. But Timbavati's white lions are part of a bigger picture – ecologically, spiritually and globally. My life's job is to put an end to the 'canned hunting' ugliness. And for the tsonga people, killing a 'lion-sun-god' is the ultimate disgrace and a crime against the laws of nature. "

Wild, free animals

Now, the brutal canned hunting industry is not a crime under South African law. But the government is coming under increasing pressure from both national and international institutions. In 2015, even the South African hunters' association The Professional Hunter's Association of South Africa (PHASA) officially withdrew from the business. Audrey Delsink, director of the African branch of the Humane Society International (HSI), has learned that "breeding lions in captivity is not only cruel and in stark contrast to the global resistance to treating wild animals in this way; it is also a potential threat to wild lions. " After the US banned the importation of trophies from captive animals, attention shifted to the knuckle industry. The South African government decided – without public consultation – an annual export quota of 800 lion skeletons. These go to Asia, including as a replacement for tiger bones in fake tiger wine, in traditional medicine and as ornaments. While this export law is now under review following a two-day hearing in the South African parliament, the quota for 2018 has meanwhile doubled to 1500 skeletons.


After saying goodbye to Linda, Jason and the white lions in Timbavati, we get the latest news, and thus an explanation for why one of the lions has stayed hidden for weeks: It has become a family increase. And one thing is clear – these lion cubs will only be loved by the lion's mother and the rest of her natural family. They will never walk with people. In time, they will hunt for antelope, wildebeest and warthog. One day they might get an even bigger area to move on, when it is safe to tear the fences to the neighbors and no longer fall victim to poaching or legal, «canned» hunt.

Ranveig Eckhoff
Ranveig Eckhoff
Eckhoff is a regular reviewer for Ny Tid.

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