“Another white cougar may not appear in my lifetime”
Photographs have recently surfaced of a ghostly young male cougar in the Serra dos Órgãos National Park in southeastern Brazil.
These photographs were the first ever confirmed case of a wild cougar with leucism.
Leucism is a genetic mutation that turns most of the animal’s body white, similar to albinism but not as extreme.
“That shows you how extremely unusual it is,” says Luke Hunter, author of the book Wild Cats of The World.
Genetic color aberrations like albinism and leucism are relatively common among wild cats.
For some reason, they’re almost unheard of in cougars, which makes this meeting extra special.
There have only ever been two records of albino cougars, one at a zoo and one in the wild.
Melanism, which is a surplus of the black pigment melanin, the opposite of leucism, occurs in 14 out of 40 known wild cat species.
Even with this fact, nobody has ever recorded a white cougar, in captivity or in the wild.
Cougars, also known as pumas or mountain lions, usually have very little variation in coat colors overall which are usually tan/gray.
Hunter says no one knows why color-changing genes are so rare in the species.
“My best guess is that the distant ancestor of pumas was uniformly colored, and that has been maintained in the species ever since,” he says.
“But that’s just a consequence of the randomness of mutation, the roll of the genetic dice.”
After the photos were taken, researchers had hoped to capture the Brazilian cat and analyze its genes, but they haven’t seen it again.