© BarcroftMandla and Zihra

White lions have returned to the wild for the first time in the Limpopo Province of South Africa

Pictured here, the lions became only the second pride to take their first steps to freedom in the greater Timbavati region of South Africa.

Immediately establishing their territory the five-strong pride delighted conservationists of the Global White Lion Protection Trust who have worked tirelessly to re-establish the rare white lion in a long term scientific reintroduction program over the past seven years.

"It was an incredibly exciting day and we have been jumping up and down in celebration," said Linda Tucker, CEO and founder of the WLT.

"The lions walked to freedom like Kings and they look as if they have always been in freedom their whole lives."

Leaving their protected area for the first time, lioness Zihra, her mate Mandla and their three one-year old cubs Zukhara, Matsieng and Nebu wandered gracefully into the WLT's 2,500 acre conservation area.

"We started preparing for the release at 6 am and by 8 am the gates were open and the female Zihra came striding out as if nothing would stop her," said Miss Tucker, whose team had left a wildebeest carcass in the open plains to encourage the lions from their gated enclosure.

"She has already gone exploring looking for warthogs to hunt. There was no timidity at all - they are very much kings in command of their territory.

"We had scent-marked the innards of a wildebeest into the open plain to encourage them to take the brave steps out into the wild.

"But the pride were not interested in eating at all. They were interested in playing and exploring their new environment. They were grinning with excitement."

Other predators resident on the conservancy, which the lion could expect to encounter are the leopard, hyaena, jackal, lynx-like caracal, honey badger, serval and the small spotted genet.

Rarer than the Himalayan Snow Leopard, White Lions originate solely from the Greater Timbavati Bushveld region of South Africa.