Review of the article "Effects of a colour variant on hunting ability: the white lion in South Africa"

by VALEIX Marion

In their article “Effects of a colour variant on hunting ability: the white lion in South Africa”, the Authors, Jason Turner, Caroline Vasicek, and Michael Somers, use the opportunity of rewilding 3 groups of lions (2 groups of white lions and 1 group of tawny lions) to assess the hunting capacity of white lions. This is a unique opportunity to test the hypothesis that white coat colour prevents free-roaming lions from hunting successfully and therefore surviving in the wild.

The study took place in the Lowveld of South Africa. The reintroduction occurred in the Tsau Conservancy, a 2000 ha wildlife area, bordering the Timbavati Private Nature Reserve, which is the natural distribution range of white lions. Once the reintroduced lions had started hunting without human intervention, the authors monitored (with an intensive fieldwork effort) and compared the mean kill rate, mean food consumption rate, location of kills, and prey selection patterns (using Jacobs’ index) between the reintroduced white lion groups, the reintroduced tawny lion group and information gathered from wild tawny lions in adjacent reserves.

Lion group composition differed between the 3 study lion groups: one white lion group was composed of one 6-year old lioness and her three sub-adults (3-year old), the other white lion group was composed of one adult female, one adult male and their 3 cubs (1.3 year old), while the tawny lion group was composed of 2 adult lionesses without offspring. These different group compositions might have influenced the hunting strategy of lions but are partly taken into account into the calculations of the number of kills per lion feeding unit and the food consumption rate per day per lion feeding unit. However, this may have further influenced variables such as prey selection pattern (groups with males and larger groups in terms of adults are expected to hunt larger prey) or kill locations (as the lioness with cubs may travel shorter distances than the other groups). This could have been discussed more by the Authors.

The article is well written and provides all the details needed for a perfect understanding of the study. The methodology is sound. The Authors acknowledge the limit of their sample size but this is the best data ever on white lions which are extremely rare and were even extinct in the wild for a while.

The results convincingly show that white lions have the same ability to hunt in the wild than tawny lions. This is a result of importance with implications for the management and conservation of white lions in the wild.

Overall, this work brings new insights into the ecology of white lions which appears to be rather unknown because of its rarity, and provides useful details of a rather successful reintroduction story. Most importantly, it demonstrates that white lions are capable hunters able to survive in their natural habitat, where they should therefore be left free roaming in the future.

I congratulate the Authors for this very nice piece of work.

Dr. Marion Valeix

French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)
“Biométrie et Biologie Evolutive”
Bât. G. Mendel, UCB Lyon 1
43 bd du 11 nov. 1918
69622 Villeurbanne cedex
tel: +33 6 77 60 67 73

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