By Rebecca Lewis @RebeccaSLewis
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Previously they have only been born to normal tawny coloured lionesses in the wild - making them a scientific first.
But these three snow-white cubs were blissfully unaware of their significance as they nuzzled their mother.
The remarkable images document for the first time cubs born with the rare colour variation to a wild white lioness.
Just thirteen white lions, a stunning differentiation to a normal lion, remain in the Greater Timbavati Region, South Africa, an area where the mysterious predators were first spotted in 1975.
Seven of the unlucky number were rescued from hunting camps and zoos and six were born in the region or born of lions who originated from the Timbavati
It is those six, who have spent their lifetime in the wild, that are pictured.
The addition of the cubs mean the region has the highest population of white lions ever recorded – providing a boost to the species’ survival.
Chad Cocking, 31, a game ranger from the reserve, came across what is thought to be the Giraffe Farm Pride in October.
Describing the moment he saw the rare creatures, he said: “We rounded the last bit of vegetation to get to the dam and there in front of us were six adult lions, two of which were white.
“We stopped immediately at a distance to view them, and when I put my binoculars on, my smile got even bigger - if that was possible - as there, nursing from their white mother, were three white lion cubs and their tawny sibling.
“We had found them and here in front of us were five of only six known wild white lions.”
Scott Ramsay, 39, a photographer from Cape Town, came across the lion cubs just two weeks later.
He said: “They are possibly one of the most hypnotic African creatures I have photographed.
“One of the white lionesses has piercing blue eyes, and together with her white coat, she was supremely photogenic.”
These big cats owe their unusual snow-white fur to a rare genetic marker that results in a white coat but pigmented eyes, skin and paws.
Tawny lions indigenous to the Timbavati carry the recessive leucism gene – meaning two brown-coloured lions could produce a white cub. The father of the white cubs is not known.
But it is not guaranteed a litter from white lions will produce the rare cats, and the survival of the species is threatened by the popularity of hunting of white and tawny lions, with trophy hunters from around the world flocking to the region to kill the males.
The cruel practice, known as ‘canned hunting’, sees white and tawny cubs stolen from their mother and offered to tourists to pet.
Upon reaching adulthood, they are released into fenced areas for a wealthy foreigner to gun down.
As a consequence of the trade, which is a fast-growing business in the nation, vulnerable prides are taken over by new males, who subsequently kill the young cubs.
The birth of three young lions is a boost to conservation groups.
Conservationist Linda Tucker, founder of Global White Lion Protection Trust, famously introduced seven of the population into the region in 2004, freeing them from a life in a cage.
She said: “The birth of these second generation white cubs to a wild white lioness in Timbavati is fantastic news and brings huge hope for the future survival of white lions.
“The mother of the cubs and her sister survived against all odds, surviving on their own as subadults after their pride was taken over by rival male lions that displaced them from their pride and surviving despite the ongoing commercial lion trophy hunting that takes place in this region of their birth.
“Trophy hunting of pride males leads to disruption and instability of prides, and regular infanticide, such as the killing of cubs by rival male lions during a pride takeover.”
The trial of the young cubs is not over yet and they are faced with an uncertain future.
Although the sex of the cubs are not yet known, if they are male they are at risk of human hunters and lions who see other males as a rival.
Linda added: “The survival of these cubs and the future of white lions in the wild is in jeopardy if lion trophy hunting of pride males continues."