I recently got to spend a weekend at the Global White Lion Protection Trust (GWLPT) in Timbavati. The weekend was centered around the celebration of World Lion Day, and the start of their One United Roar Talent Challenge. We were invited as a group of bloggers to come and learn more about the GWLPT, as well as take part in a traditional ceremony with the local Shangaan medicine women to celebrate the White Lions and the start of the #OneUnitedRoar campaign.
Global White Lion Protection Trust
The GWLPT was founded by Linda Tucker in 2002 with the aim to re-introduce the Wild Lions into their natural habitat in the Timbavati region. The model of the Trust is to promote sustainable living with mutual benefits for People, Land and Lions. They incorporate both the scientific approach to conservation, as well as a more spiritual approach of love and respect for wildlife and their natural surroundings.
We arrived at the GWLPT after a 7 hour drive from Joburg, and I must I admit, I had no idea what to expect. We arrived at Camp Unicorn, which isn’t usually open to the public (except for specific events) late on the Friday afternoon. The accommodation was basic, but covering everything that you need.
We settled in for a bit, then were led into their lounge area where we watched a documentary about GWLPT. The documentary covered the story of how the Trust was started, the first re-introduction of the White Lions into the wild, and their story of how they got to where they are today.
I’m ashamed to admit, but this was the first time that I learnt that White Lions originate naturally in South Africa, specifically in the Greater Timbavati and southern Kruger Park region. I’ve only ever known White Lions from zoos, or from other captive establishments. Which I’ve now learnt is where the majority of White Lions are kept, there are only 13 White Lions currently in the wild (7 of which are with the GWLPT). Which is a horrifying reality.
Throughout the weekend, while speaking with Linda and Jason Tucker (Lion Ecologist and Head of Operations at GWLPT), I kept on getting reminded about how little I actually know about the state of not only the Lions in South Africa, but the wildlife as a whole. It’s so easy to remove oneself from the harsh realities of our endangered wildlife while living away from it all in Joburg – we’re in a completely different world, and need to be reminded more about the danger that our wildlife is in.
A few stats that I learnt about the White Lions while at GWPT that shocked me:
- There are more lions in captivity than in the wild in South Africa.
- Canned hunting is rapidly growing in South Africa, an un-policed industry that is also directly linked to cub-petting.
- Over 160 canned lion camps have been set up across South Africa over the past 15 years.
- Less than 3% of the earnings from these canned hunting camps makes its way back into the local communities.
- Approximately 1 000 tamed lions are killed each year for blood-sport in South Africa.
- According to the numbers, the extinction risk for lions is even greater than the rhino.
The GWLPT have successfully re-introduced the White Lion into their original habitat in Timbavati. They now have 3 prides of White Lions that are hunting and living as wild a life as they can for the time being. I say ‘as wild a life as they can’, as they are still enclosed in a 2 000 ha area of land and are monitored daily with tracking collars. While Linda and Jason are trying to interfere as little as possible with them, they are still very much involved with them and it does take away the sense of ‘truly wild African wildlife’. But I get why they are so involved, and that it will still take time (and a lot of work) before they are able to release the White Lions into the greater Kruger Park area – which is what they eventually want to do.
We were lucky enough to go out with Linda and Jason for sunrise drives on both the Saturday and Sunday, and were able to see the White Lions in the wild – SO much better than behind a cage.
The Saturday afternoon we joined in on a traditional ceremony held at the start of the Timbavati river with the Shangaan medicine women. We first gathered under a giant fig tree for a traditional African lunch – huge potjie pots of pap, rice, vegetables and chicken. We then gathered to watch a few videos and learn a bit more about the GWLPT as well as the Linda Tucker Foundation and the various StarLion leadership academies that have been started in the area.
It was then time to make our way down towards the riverbed, we formed a lion parade with the local children from the StarLion programs, the medicine women and other members of the local community.
The White Lions are seen as sacred among the tribes in the Timbavati area, which is one of the reasons why the ceremony was held. The other was to open up the #OneUnitedRoar campaign with a ceremony, and performance from the children of the StarLion programs.
If the White Lions are erased from their sacred lands, the soul of the African people will die along with their continent. – Maria Khosa, Traditional Tsonga Medicine Woman
It was an amazing experience to witness this ceremony – it didn’t feel like the usual tourist performances that you see, this one felt a bit more like the real deal. After the traditional ceremony, the children from the various StarLion programs put on a full production – reciting poems, stories and singing songs about the White Lion. They really were amazing, and set up a great start for #OneUnitedRoar campaign, which is inviting children to express themselves by singing, dancing, acting or giving a speech, acting on behalf of the Lion.
It was a really interesting weekend, to see White Lions in the wild as well as learn more about the spiritual side of getting in touch with wildlife. The weekend opened up my eyes in many ways – the biggest of which was how much our Lions are in danger.
My stay at the Global White Lion Protection Trust was complimentary, all views expressed are my own.