04/18/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT
In about four years they will grow to more than 400 pounds. But right now, Tandi, Kholwa and Tembi—Zulu for love, faith and hope—weigh under 4 pounds each. Born March 24 at the Philadelphia Zoo, the three are the daughters of Vinkel, a white lioness, and Merlin, her tawny mate. To the elation of zoo officials, Tandi (left) inherited the gene that makes her mother so rare. Perhaps fewer than 15 white lions exist in the world, most of them in South Africa, and Tandi is the first to be born in the Western Hemisphere. Yet already people have called the zoo disputing Tandi's uniqueness. "They're thinking of white tigers," says assistant curator of mammals Dave Woods. "There are more than 60 of them in America. But nobody else has white lions."