White lion cub drinking from a bottle

All photos: Attila Kisbenedek/AFP/Getty Images

Nala, an 8-week old white lion cub, drinks milk from a bottle on June 3 at her new home in Abony, Hungary. She and her brother, Mombasa, were born on April 1 in northern Italy, but were recently brought to a private zoo located 90 kilometers east of Budapest.

White lions are not albino animals. These exquisite big cats are the result of a recessive leucistic gene that only occurs in the African lion subspecies native to the Timbavati region of South Africa. In their natural endemic range, local communities revere and regard white lions as sacred and lucky.

Although these fair-colored kitties occur in the wild, many of the ones found in zoos, wildlife parks and exotic animal shows were likely the result of selective breeding. Sadly, this is sometimes accomplished through inbreeding, which can result in major birth defects and fertility issues down the road.

White lions may be rare and unique, but reduced pigmentation caused by leucism is a condition that appears in countless animals, including the mysterious white tiger.

White lion cubs

Mombasa and Nala pose for a photo while settling into their new home.

White lion cub picked up by caretaker

A caretaker cuddles with Mombasa.

White lion cubs wrestling

Mombasa and Nala wrestle at their new home.

White lion cub with caretaker

A caretaker cuddles with a very playful Mombasa.

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Catie Leary ( @catieleary ) writes about science, travel, animals and the arts.