Description: Viral image / Hoax
Circulating since: June 2012
Status: Fake (see details below)
Analysis: Alas, this gorgeous animal doesn't really exist. It's an admitted hoax, created by manipulating the colors in an image of a white lion (which does exist) photographed at the Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn, South Africa.
According to the Global White Lion Protection Trust, white lions are a genetic anomaly unique to the Timbavati region of South Africa. They are considered "technically extinct" in the wild due to over-hunting. Though an all-black or "melanistic" lion could theoretically exist (and probably does, somewhere), I've run across no documented sightings of such an animal, only anecdotal reports such as that in George Adamson's 1987 book, My Pride and Joy, of an "almost entirely black" specimen spotted in Tanzania.
Sources and further reading:
Black (Melanistic) Lion
Manipulated image on DeviantArt.com, June 2012
10 Facts About White Lions
Global White Lion Protection Trust, 2011
Photo: White Lion Pride
About.com: Animals / Wildlife
Mutant Big Cats - Black Lions
My Pride and Joy by George Adamson
Simon and Schuster, 1987 (p. 54)
Last updated 12/02/12