After Years of Serving as 'Human Playthings,' Two Rare White Lions Get to Live on Their Own Terms
Alpha and Omega are getting a new beginning.
The rare white lions are under the care of the Global White Lion Protection Trust — a nonprofit dedicated to protecting and conserving white lions and reintroducing the animals to their natural habitat — after years of serving as "human playthings."
According to a release from the Global White Lion Protection Trust, Alpha and Omega were taken away from their mother at a young age by South Africa's cub-petting industry, which charges tourists for the opportunity to handle and photograph captive big cat cubs.
Once the animals became too large for cuddles, they were kept in an enclosure by their owner, who would take the lions out for daily walks with paying guests. Unfortunately, after starting these "walking with lions" tours, Alpha and Omega escaped their enclosure and killed a local farmworker.
Even though lion experts, including the Global White Lion Protection Trust's Founder and CEO Linda Tucker, warned against forcing Alpha and Omega into more tourism work, the tours continued after the attack. Two years later, Alpha and Omega attacked again, killing their owner while out on a walk. This second death put the lion sisters at risk of being surrendered to a captive lion breeding facility or euthanized.
"Within hours of the tragedy, the Global White Lion Protection Trust was contacted by local nature conservation officials to ask for our assistance," Tucker tells PEOPLE of Alpha and Omega. "Concerned that they may be euthanized, we agreed to assist by taking temporary custody of the lioness sisters to ensure their best interests."
When it became clear that a "dignified alternative solution" could not be found for Alpha and Omega outside of the Global White Lion Protection Trust's care, the organization chose to accept full lifelong responsibility for the animals.
The Global White Lion Protection Trust does not usually keep habituated/tamed lions hand-raised by humans in their care — its focus is on protecting and expanding the limited wild white lion population left in the world — but the organization made an exception for Alpha and Omega. Tucker hopes that the organization can give the lionesses the independence and care they deserve and that Alpha and Omega's story can serve as a wake-up call.
"For decades, our organization has been publicizing the risks of cuddling hand-reared predators and warning the international public about the horror story behind this industry," Tucker says of the cub-petting industry. "This pet-to-kill industry is the grossly exploitative mass production of adorable cubs, who are ripped from their caged mothers at birth, and commercially handed out from tourist-to-tourist to hug for a price, before being disposed of."
"It is nothing short of a global catastrophe," she adds.
After years of being used as props, Alpha and Omega finally have space and freedom to act like the animals they are.
"These majestic sisters will remain together in a large protective enclosure of natural habitat with wild prides visiting them regularly and surrounded by the natural ecosystem," Tucker says of what the future holds for these rare beauties.
Along with doing their own research about the cub-petting industry and other tourism centered around up-close experiences with wild animals, animal lovers can help Alpha and Omega, and other white lions, by learning more about the creatures and donating to their conservation at the Global White Lion Protection Trust's website.