This is the intense moment a rare white lioness faced off with a pack of hyenas in South Africa’s Kruger National Park.
The lion had just killed an antelope when a group of hungry scavengers took notice and surrounded her in an attempt to steal the kill. Field guide Joe Van Zyl, who captured the footage, described the amazing sighting: “On a late afternoon drive, we decided to have drinks at one of our favorite watering holes when we saw a lioness with a duiker she killed. After about 5 minutes, two hyenas came from a distance and started to trot towards her with persistence and calling while doing so.”
And they just kept coming. Before long, a total of 11 hyenas arrived on the scene, far outnumbering the lone lioness.
“[The lioness] had no idea where to look for escape routes and decide to hunker down in the position she was in,” said Van Zyl.
Eventually, several of the hyenas felt bold enough to nip at the lion’s hind legs, leaving her with no choice but to run for safety.
With the hyenas close behind, the cat managed to escape into a tree, where she hid until the coast was clear.
White lions, which are rare in nature, aren’t a separate species. They’re actually leucistic, meaning they carry a recessive genetic mutation that causes their coat to be lighter in color than normal. For a lion to be born white, both its parents must have had the recessive mutation. Unlike albinos, white lions typically still have dark coloring in some spots, such as around their eyes and nose.
Their bright color makes them stand out a lot more than regular lions, whose tawny coat easily blends into the bushes of the African plains. However, it’s not clear whether this actually makes survival harder for white lions.
“As a scientist, I can’t say that there’s categorical evidence either way,” Paul Funston, Panthera’s senior lion program director, told National Geographic.
We’re just guessing, but in this case, the lioness’ bright white coat didn’t help her stay conspicuous and escape the attention of the hyena gang.