Wildlife enthusiasts have recently been perplexed by a series of striking photos of an extremely rare white cougar. The four photos were taken in 2013, but they were recently resurfaced after scientists confirmed that this was the first case of a leucistic puma ever documented. The photographs were taken with a trap camera in the Serra dos Órgãos National Park in Brazil’s Atlantic Forest.
Even though albinism, leucism, and even melanism are common in wild cats, there have never been any reports of cougars with these genetic disorders. Scientists are still baffled as to why this is.
Luke Hunter, executive director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Big Cats Program, told National Geographic, “That shows you how extremely unusual it is. My best guess is that pumas’ distant ancestor was uniformly colored, and the species has retained that coloration ever since. But that’s just a side effect of mutation’s randomness, the genetic dice roll.”
This first case of cougar leucism would have helped researchers understand why this genetic color aberration occurs so rarely, but the rare animal was never seen again after the initial encounter in 2013. “We restarted the camera trap monitoring project last year, but no new record of this animal or any other odd-colored pumas,” Ceclia Cronemberger de Faria, environmental analyst for Serra dos Órgãos National Park, told National Geographic.
Albinism, melanism, and leucism affect wild animals in a variety of ways, and they face a variety of challenges. They are extremely vulnerable in the presence of predators, and their groups frequently reject them.
To see how unique leucistic animals are, watch the video below.