egilio

Ginger - the golden lion of South Luangwa

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Posted (edited)

Back in July/August 2008 an usual lion was born in South Luangwa NP. He was one of 5 cubs born around the same time in the Luwi pride. Some of the others drew the attention of some lion experts because of their unusual high amount of spots (one can be seen in the lower left hand of the photo), but they ignored this lion which I think is much more special!

 

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He was very lightly colored, making him stand out immediately. What was up with this lion. Some thought he was an albino, but he clearly has pigment (orange colored, not white, no red eyes). So what is it?

 

Clearly there's a reduction or even complete absence of dark/black pigments. A condition caused by erythrism, which is either an increase in the production of red pigments, or a reduction of it (and anerythristic when there is a complete absence of it). A rare condition in lions, this is the only lion I know of which has this condition. However, Robin Pope mentioned seeing a lioness like that in 80's in the same region of South Luangwa.

 

In his case it meant that the black behind the ears and on the tailtip appears orange, and his toe pads are pink, as can be seen in the following picture. More on this condition, with a leopard as example, can be read here.

 

gallery_5651_506_12791.jpg

 

He grew up well, and turned out to stand his ground quite well, seen swiping and growling at the adults whenever they were feeding on a carcass.

 

However, he did seem to have some trouble with his eyes, possibly caused by the fact that the skin around his eyes is lighter than usual, causing more light to enter his eyes.

 

gallery_5651_506_222767.jpg

 

But he did well, and out of the 5 cubs born in the same period in the pride, him and his brother survived the first year and grew up into good looking sub-adults.

 

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But in the second half of 2011 he did what most 3 year old male lion do, he dispersed from his natal pride. I last saw him in June 2011, in those pictures you can clearly see how different he looks.

 

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After he dispersed sightings of him became rare and far in between. In 2012 there was one sighting, and there were a few other sightings from walking safaris mentioning seeing a very shy pale male lion.

 

But in the second half of 2015 he showed up again in the main game area of South Luangwa, however, still very few sightings. But yesterday somebody posted pictures of him in the facebook group Wildlife of Zambia. Seen over Christmas, mating with a female, in the area he was born in (but which is now held by another pride). I've asked permission to post the pictures here, but until I get the permission I will just link to the facebook page here.

 

Wildlife of Zambia

 

 

Wildlife Extra also reported a few times on him in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Edited by egilio
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@@egilio Very interesting. His eyes look ok in the most recent images on the Wildlife of Zambia FB page.

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@@egilio how fascinating. He's a beautiful animal. Would be interesting to see the cubs when they are born and whether any have his coloring. Though I don't know if it is a hereditary trait.

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Yes, his eyes look OK now, and actually have been looking OK since he was sub-adult. It might be interesting to follow him, he's now a fully grown male in his prime and seems to be claiming a territory, with his mate, in the main game area of South Luangwa. He might have been attending a pride in the back country, typically male lions switch prides after about two years when a set of cubs has grown up to sub-adults, or he has been wandering around and only now manages to establish himself. In the Serengeti most males manage to hold a territory from about 4 years old, in the Kruger this is when they're about 6 years old. Luangwa is more like Kruger (denser bushes, no migratory game) so probably more like Kruger. And smaller coalitions only manage to hold territories when they're older. Ginger only has one coalition partner so it might well be the first time they can hold a territory. Let's hope he survives a few more years and manages to spread/conserve his unique genes!

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@@SafariChick Because Robin Pope remembered a similar lion in the same region I think it's a hereditary thing. Many traits linked to erythrism, anerythrism, albinism etc are simple (ie only one gene involved) recessive traits. Meaning an animal must receive the gene from both parents for it to be visible. So if the mother doesn't carry the gene none of the cubs will show it (but all will carry it). If the cubs happen to mate with each other (very small chance) than 1/4 of the offspring will look like their dad, and 2/3 of the normal looking ones will carry the gene and 1/3 will not. If one the females he has cubs with carries the gene than 1/2 the cubs will look like him. There's a 2/3 chance his brother carries the gene too (as both their parents carried it). So if that guy mates with a female who carries the gene than 1/3 of their cubs will look like Ginger too.

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Hi @@egilio - Nice piece on Ginger - thank you; I will keep an eye out for him on my return to SLNP in June (5 full moons from now). Out of curiosity, please advise what is considered the main game area in SLNP? By the bridge at Mfuwe?

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I would say the main game area roughly runs from Chichele hill up to big bend (chipembele bend), or even as far as the luwi crossing.

 

I assumed Ginger was still with the male he dispersed with, but it turns out that that's probably not the case, he's been seen associating with another male.

 

A, concerned, guide from South Luangwa has set up a facebook page for this lion. He's most likely the only lion in Africa (or the whole world) with this condition, making him truly unique, but this year lion hunting is re-opening in Zambia and this guide is concerned he might get shot: facebook page

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do you think that this is he? We spotted these two lions one morning when we were at Kuyenda the end of August.

post-17651-0-95345800-1453181188_thumb.jpg

post-17651-0-24379500-1453181305_thumb.jpg

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his survival skills are amazing since he's light coloured and more prominent, and that his eyes have adjusted to the additional sunlight filtering in. Hope he escapes the hunting seasons too.

 

would you know if other golden lions have been reported elsewhere in Africa - in the past or present?

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@@marg I reckon that's him. What a great find.

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@@marg That's him, look at his tailtip, it's orange and not black.

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What a nice story. Looks as though he is thriving to date.

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He is, but lion hunting is opening again coming season, and the area he uses last year borders 2 hunting concessions.

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Yes of course, so he could be at serious risk now . @@egilio do you think his unusual colouring puts him at greater risk from a trophy hunter tHan some other males.

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What an interesting history on this lion and great luck in finding the photos Marg. Perhaps he will draw in photographers and tourists, a bit like Lady Liuwa.

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Of course, the more publicity he gets the more likely the price on his head for trophy hunters will rise. Supply and demand. :(

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The more publicity he gets, the more obvious it will be that he will raise more money through photo tourism than through one single hunting trophy fee. If it pays it stays...

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I wish him nothing but the best & I hope I am completely wrong, but I am very pessimistic about the poor guy's fate. I wish I could agree with you, Egil, that if it pays, it stays. Nothing can possibly stay after some scumbag decides that he is rare enough & special enough to hang up on his wall. $20k, $30k, $50k - and watch how quickly he gets lured into the hunting concession. Followed by a great big outcry here and elsewhere. Followed by an oops, we didn't know he was so special. Followed by several long posts about how hunting benefits conservation.

 

I can't make up my mind about whether it's a good thing to know anything about him or not. Already with your photos of him as a cub and Marg's lovely recent photo, I feel more invested in his future than is good for me :(

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I have had the good fortune to see Ginger (and his equally interesting looking brother Garlic) this past week. He is doing well :) And I have to say he is beautiful! 

Interesting to see pictures of him as a youngster here! 

 

Concerning points raised about him being a target for hunters though. I sincerely hope that wouldn't be true.

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@monalisa Come on - share your photos with us then :) And get writing a trip report...

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This is a great story!  I'll be following and hoping to see more photos and a trip report or two!

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