The story of the ugly duckling repeats itself, but this time it concerns an ocelot, or American wildcat, one of the wild cats of Colombia like the jaguar, the puma, or the margay. Except that it is the first known albino specimen in the world, blind, indeed blind, probably due to deforestation.
The specimen lives in the Conservation Park of Medellín, in a refuge where it is monitored 24 hours a day, with gradual lighting. The puppy was abandoned by her mother probably because her white color could attract predators and also endanger her brothers. Not to mention that she, unable to blend in, would not have been able to hunt prey for survival. She found her a baby in 2021 in the Amalfi woods, in the Northeastern Antioquia area, in Colombia. It was he who took care of it the first few days, when it simply looked like a small cat, weighing less than 400 grams, but then the mayor’s office alerted the Corporación Autónoma Regional of the Centro de Antioquia (Corantioquia), a body in charge of protecting biodiversity.
Scholars immediately realized that something was wrong with that animal: it was malnourished, with digestive and respiratory problems until it was at risk of death and the absence of melanin which heralded albinism. This white color, according to the scientists, would be caused by a disease indicative of the deterioration of the native forests of Antioquia. Initially the feline was mistaken for a puma jaguarundi but then, following genetic tests, it was discovered that it is a leopardus pardalis.
Now the little girl weighs almost 13 kilos, loves meat, especially chicken black pudding, and has a soft spot for the scent of lavender that her ethologist, Elisa Madrigal, uses to stimulate her. She seems to have adapted very well to the situation, she is agile in moving around and also in hunting simulations, as well as being the pride of the Conservation Park. Obviously she is always monitored because albinism could lead to other mutations on the kidneys and heart. For now, however, the splendid and rare creature is in excellent health.
The discovery of this animal has aroused contrasting reactions in the scientific world: on the one hand it has revived attention to the study of genetic mutations in felines, on the other the awareness that its suffering is not a good sign first of all for it and then on the state of the forests of Antioquia. Albinism is a recessive mutation, it occurs when both parents are carriers of the gene and this occurs in small populations. This raises fears that the species is disappearing locally although it is not currently classified as critically endangered, but the strong deterioration of its habitat could easily make it return to endangered animals.
Between 2000 and 2019, approximately 490,000 hectares of forest were lost in Antioquia: man, crops, livestock breeding interrupt the natural corridors that connect the forests and wild animals move less, even for mating and they do not find individuals distant from their group, useful because they are genetically different. The disappearance of the ocelots would be a great damage to the ecosystem: without them the herbivores would multiply dramatically by overexploiting the forest and the discovery of this specimen is not a good indication.