By James Speakman and Sophie Norris
An extremely rare white lion cub – the first to be born in three years – has delighted tourists on safari in South Africa.
White lions are classed as ‘critically endangered’ and in 2015 it was estimated there was only 13 left in the world.
Two wildlife photographer were lucky enough to snap the four-day-old cub as it hid with its mother and siblings in a den at Kruger National Park, South Africa.
Describing the sighting as ‘once-in-a-lifetime’, safari guide Daryl Dell, 40, has vowed to ‘never forget and always cherish’ the moment he caught the tiny cub being carried by its mother in front of him.
He has worked on safari for 15 years, sometimes waiting up to 17 hours a day for sightings of some of Africa’s most impressive animals, but claims this beat them all.
Daryl said: “This was a once in a lifetime moment – a moment that I will never forget and always cherish.
“We had heard there was a lioness at a den with a white cub so we decided to wait at the site to see what would happen in the hope of her moving the cubs.
“It was towards the end of the morning, a time when the chance of hyena and other threats are minimal because of the heat. Luckily my guests were very patient.
“As if it wasn’t enough for the lioness to carry one cub, she then carried this white one and then another.
“We had planned to go out and find leopards and wild dogs. We never expected to see such a rare sight.”
Before other tourists on safari flocked to see the lioness and her three cubs, another tour guide and wildlife photographer, Mike Sutherland, 30, managed to capture the first photo of the cub.
Mike Sutherland had been taking a group of guests on a tour from the Ngala Safari Lodge last Monday when he was told of the cub sighting and rushed over there to get a glimpse of the new arrival.
Due to viewing restrictions protecting the precious animals, Mike was only able to take photographs from 25 metres away.
Mike, from Johannesburg, South Africa, said: “As soon as we arrived at the den, we had an immediate flash of white. There was a little cub of about four or five days old lying in front of its mother.
“White lion cubs are an extremely rare thing to see, and given its age, we were in absolute awe.
“The last ones recorded were born in 2015 and it is believed one white lion male currently exists somewhere in the Kruger National Park but no recent information is available.
“These cubs seldom make it to adulthood. Being a white lion in the wild, you are born with a disadvantage as your coat doesn’t allow you to blend in as well as the normal, tawny-coloured lion would.
“This new cub is now the only one of its kind in Kruger and was born to two tawny-coloured lions. Cubs of this colour are produced when two tawny-coloured lions mate and they both have the recessive ‘white’ gene.”
Mike discovered the den on March 5 on the bank of the Timbavati River. He spotted the cub and its family from 25 metres away, off a dirt track, and had to get the shots from there due to strict regulations.
Mike said: “The image is special to me as they are the first record of this specific cub which is the first to be born in the area in many years.
“The image also depicts its vulnerability from within the den.
“Our goal for the safari was to explore areas that were known for good game viewing and to maximise any opportunity we were presented with.
“We were fortunate enough to not only see these white lion cubs, but leopard cubs, multiple prides of lions, lions hunting, giraffes fighting and elephants swimming.
“I am hoping to continue my journey as a private safari guide and show people the rarities like this one.”