A Special Moment with a Wild White Lion

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan 8 Comments

As a Guide, or anyone that enjoys nature for that matter, there are certain things we always wish to see.  Whether it be Wildebeest crossing over the Mara River, Polar Bears in Svalbard or witnessing Lions taking down a Buffalo, some of these “must sees” are harder to come by than other.

Recently I was in the Timbavati hosting a Private Safari with Deborah Kane, who herself has become a regular traveller with Wild Eye.  One of her bucket list experiences was to view and photograph a wild White Lion.  Possibilities of getting a glimpse of these animals are extremely rare, and with less than 10 wild White Lions still around, odds were stacked heavily against us.

White Lions are not Albino, as many believe, they are leucistic which means there is a partial lack of pigmentation caused by a recessive gene.  White Lions are the same subspecies as the normal tawny Lions.  Due to their much lighter appearance, they do have some disadvantages in the wild, one of which is sneaking up on prey species because they stand out so much more than your “normal” tawny coloured Lions.

As we arrived at our lodge in the Timbavati, we settled in and found out via the “bush telegraph” (guides talking) what has been happening around the concession and what our chances were of getting a glimpse of a White Lion (currently there is only ONE Lioness that is seen on a semi regular basis).

Having been to the Timbavati on several occasions and never seen a White Lion, I mentioned to Deborah that there is a very slim chance of us seeing one, and to not ponder about it too much but rather go with the approach of “what we see we see” and wait for the bush to deliver it’s magic.

During our third morning, Mike (our guide) and I sat and had a coffee, planning on what area we are going to operate in, when the call came…  “They’ve just found the White Lioness!!!” he said with great excitement,  Poor Deborah had a quick two or three sips of her coffee and off we went, but there was one problem…  The Timbavati has no fences between it and the Kruger, but there are concessions, some that can be traversed and some that can’t.  This Lioness was literally walking on the road bordering the concession that we couldn’t access, yet we still had to give it a go.  The tension was painful!!  I could feel my heart racing, listening for updates on the radio, until we were about a couple of hundred meters from the sighting.  Just a glimpse I thought, if Deborah can just get one image even if it is of her crossing the road into private property.

What followed was a sighting that we couldn’t have planned any better.  There was blanket of mist covering the Acacia Woodland, and with the sun just peaking through, the light was like something out of a Nat Geo fairytale.  I must admit, it was the first time in very long, that I was flustered.  ‘Do this, do that, underexpose, don’t cut off her tail, check your exposure, check your composition’ I remember telling Deborah…  It was absolute chaos.

As the sighting matured and we got different angles of her and Deborah was satisfied with her settings, I managed to shoot off a few frames.  Our timing was perfect and with only us and one other vehicle in the sighting, we followed her as she walked past our vehicle on a couple of occasions, we were absolutley stunned by how beautiful she was.  How lucky were we?

It is moments like these, the look of pure excitement and joy on our guests faces, that makes me realise two things:

  1.  I certainly have one of the best jobs in the world!
  2.  I am privileged to be able to help people’s dreams come true and really change the way they see the world.

Who knows what other exciting moments still lie ahead in 2017.


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

Share this Post

Comments 8

    1. Post
    1. Post
  1. Martha Myers

    Johan! I am so happy for you and Debs. It was such a pleasure seeing these images, and also spending the following days at Umlani with you, Deborah, and Katie. Until November!

    1. Post
    1. Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *