The little lion who couldn’t roar

October 5, 2013 • 2:08 pm

But he’s trying! This white lion cub, just born at a zoo in Serbia, is trying so hard to roar like the big guys. But all he can do is make a noise like a sheep.

As PuffHo notes:

Nevertheless, her debut at the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia on Thursday could not have been any cuter. The unnamed cub was born last week, according to The Associated Press. She is the daughter of a lioness called Masha and weighs in at just 2.8 pounds.

White lions, which are found in some reserves in South Africa (I’ve written about them before; go here to see the cool pictures), are not albinos but show leucism, a genetic trait due to a single mutation. Here’s Wikipedia’s explanation:

They have pigment visible in the eyes (which may be the normal hazel or golden color, blue-gray, or green-gray), paw pads and lips. Blue-eyed white lions exist and may be selectively bred. The leucistic trait is due to a recessive mutation in the gene for Tyrosinase (TYR), an enzyme responsible for the production of melanins. More severe mutations in the same gene have been found to cause albinism in many species, while another less severe mutation in the same gene is responsible for the Chinchilla coloring trait seen in several mammals. Reduced pigment production decreases the deposition of pigment along the hair shaft, restricting it to the tips. The less pigment there is along the hair shaft, the paler the lion. As a result, “white” lions range from blonde to near-white. The males have pale manes and tail tips instead of the usual dark tawny or black.

They’re magnificent beasts, and, as I’ve written before, don’t seem to suffer much in comparison to normally-colored lions, although one would think that they’d suffer a disadvantage in their nocturnal hunting success. A small disadvantage, however (say, a 3% deficit in reproduction), could be evolutionarily significant but not measurable without huge samples, which we don’t have.

h/t: Su

34 thoughts on “The little lion who couldn’t roar

    1. I was thinking the exact same thing — except non-specific. That is, were I there, I don’t know that I could refrain myself from scooping a cat….


            1. Didn’t you just declare in another thread that you weren’t insane?

              I was just watching a film (reconstruction / documentary) entitled “Touching the Void,” with a couple of extremely sane people recounting the … delights … of high-octane mountaineering. Amongst other things, it’s an interesting study in where the boundaries between sanity and insanity are, considering that both of the main protagonists continue climbing (and the third one remains gob-smacked at the people he bumped into in Lima).
              To quote a colleague, “Why drive yourself mad trying to stay sane, when you can just go with the flow and enjoy it all in retrospect.” (He’s not the one on a locked ward. At the moment.)

              1. Now you’ve got me thinking we might have a scale of insanities: from sane insanity to insane insanity. (Beginning to sound like Donald Rumsfeld here…)

                But that’s insane!


              2. I think that Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns and unknown knowns” speech was pretty apt. I also think that the sentiment goes back to … probably Descartes? … though I don’t know who came up with the formulation he used.
                It tripped off his tongue like something he’d practised – which may mean that it came from Speech Writers Inc., or he may have come up with the line 20 years ago himself, and trotted it out as often as J.B.S. Haldane is reputed to have trotted out his “inordinate fondness for beetles” line.
                Rumsfeld may be (have been? I don’t waste too much time on the arcana of foreign politics) a poisonous, massively lethal specimen of unlithified coprolites, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a fool.

              3. Please! “Sane” and “insane” are LEGAL terms, not medical ones. Please do not use these terms unless you know how to use them correctly. “Euphoria” secondary to oxygen deprivation (which is what happens at high altitudes to those not acclimatized to them,) IS NOT “insanity.” It may produce temporary psychosis, so does nitrogen narcosis when diving deeply, the so-called “rapture of the deep,” but neither constitutes “insanity.” These are not the same thing at all. This is totally unscientific use of these terms.

              4. “Sane” and “insane” are LEGAL terms, not medical ones.

                Tell that to the staff on the locked ward where I was visiting a colleague last night.

              5. Incidentally, the events related in “Touching the Void” are not particularly related to high altitude (they weren’t at particularly high altitude). More to do with trying to walk for several miles with a smashed knee joint. Read it, it’s a really fun book.

              6. Hope you talking to Aidan…’cause I was using them totally in the vernacular sense.

              7. @ Aidan

                I agree–his known/unknown statement made perfect sense. I think that’s why it’s had so much traction.

      1. Well, yes, me too! I was referring, I guess, to the fact that she was so isolated from her normal cuddlers (Mom & siblings) and wondering why that was necessary.

        1. Sounds to me as if she is meowing – maybe for her mother — not trying to roar at all. Actually, she sounds an awful lot like my cat when he wants my attention.

  1. SHE, folks. This cub is FEMALE! Why do you keep calling her “he”? Read the text, please? Among lions, the females do the hunting and decide whether they will mate with any particular male. Remember the females in the Chicago zoo who killed a couple of males introduced to them, and chose an older, rather mangy looking male? He had something going for him because he sired a crop of cubs!

  2. Lions don’t purr. Apparently that is considered a distinguishing difference between the Great Cats and smaller ones. Bobcats purr (my daughter discovered that when she visited a friend who had two – a male and female. I don’t know about Cougars (we have those in AZ, as well as Bobcats and Jaguars). I once heard a male lion at the Lincoln Park zoo who had discovered that the corner of his cage formed an echo chamber, so when he roared he would use that to magnify his roar. I thought he should be freer, not in a cage. But it was very smart of him to find the echo chamber.

    1. That “big cats don’t purr” notion doesn’t seem to be quite as accurate as once thought. Many big cats make similar rumbling sounds in similar situations using similar vocal apparatuses. While perhaps not technically exactly the same as the purr of an housecat, it seems strange to call it anything other than a purr. Might as well say that African Gray parrots such as Alex don’t talk….

      See a recent video Jerry posted with a purring big cat (jaguar? leopard? don’t remember) for more.



            1. Human, of course. But I don’t know what the frequency response is of the leonine auditory system…could be a very interesting study. Again, especially considering that they share their environment with elephants who have been demonstrated to use subsonic audio for long-distance communication.


          1. This is the closest I could find with a quick bit of Googling — a tiger distinctly making purring sounds in response to a cuddle.

            I’m more than a bit worried about the cat, though…I’m not so sure that what appears to be a suburban house is a good home for a cat like that….


            1. Thanks, Ben. Because I followed up on this I found a you tube video that answers the question – do big cats like catnip. And how — especially the jaguar on this video: he rolls in it just like some of my house cats. (Not all house cats like catnip, it seems. But I had one who would sit in a pile of it — nearly cross-eyed with ecstasy, and demand more! And another who love olives — both black & green. He would hold them in his paws and rub them onto his face and his tummy.)


              1. I actually stumbled on that one yesterday, too. And there’s definitely no mistraking that reaction!

                Catnip is actually pretty easy to grow, and it’s a pleasant-tasting mint. Once I get the garden going, I’ll be planting some for both Baihu and myself. I’m actually toying with the idea of making catnip ice cream, something I think we’d both enjoy….

                Hadn’t heard about olives. I’ll have to try them out. Baihu generally doesn’t care for people food, but he is a good Jewish atheist cat. That is, he likes both lox and bacon!



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