World’s first albino ocelot is worrying for conservationists

The wild cat news today is that the world’s first albino ocelot has been discovered in Colombia. And the news is not good because the discovery indicates that deforestation in Colombia is resulting in inbreeding of wild cat species because of fragmented habitat resulting in small population sizes. This assessment is made because albinism a.k.a. “recessive white” is due to a recessive gene which can only be manifest (made visible) in the appearance of a cat when two carriers of the gene mate. This is going to be rare in the wild under natural selection. The effects of a recessive gene really only occur when there is inbreeding due to artificial selection.

To put it another way, there is consanguinity in the ocelot population in Colombia. This means that the ocelot are descended from the same ancestor. Another way to explain inbreeding.

Albino ocelot is being cared for by conservationists in Colombia
Albino ocelot is being cared for by conservationists in Colombia within the Medellin Conservation Park. Photo: CORTESÍA.
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The cat is currently being looked after in a reserve, Madellin Conservation Park, as you can see in the above photo. This individual is blind but she copes very well as cats do. In fact, she copes so well that you would hardly know that she is blind. They don’t explain why she is blind but it would seem it occurred fairly rapidly because there is no pigmentation in the irises of her eyes which means that her retina is unprotected and has been damaged. Another cause is because melanin (pigment) is involved in the development of the retina, the retina in this individual cat was poorly developed.

And of course, she’s not camouflaged by the glorious ocelot coat, which, incidentally, resulted in mass persecution of this small wild cat species for their pelts for decades. Another example of human interference which is uncomfortable to think about if you are concerned with animal welfare and nature.

As a kitten, this albino ocelot showed up in November 2021 in Cañón del Mata, at a wooded area in Amalfi (northeast of Antioquia). Apparently, a child spotted the kitten and took care of her for a few days until the mayor’s office notified an organisation, Corantioquia, in charge of protecting biodiversity. They rescued the ocelot from almost certain death because she was malnourished and had respiratory and digestive problems.

Conservationists believe that her mother abandoned her because she was attracting predators due to her albinism and was having difficulty in feeding because she was blind. They are saying that she became blind very quickly as a kitten.

Although, as mentioned, this is the first official recorded discovery of an albino ocelot, it is perfectly plausible that others have existed and died quite quickly and therefore had not been noticed.

Anna Christina Fernandez, a biologist from Corantioquia said that the gene that produces albinism has been around for a long time and therefore other specimens have probably also been around for a long time too.

To return to deforestation, which is believed to be the cause of this albino ocelot, there’s been an increased amount of human activity in the area where this wild cat species lives in Colombia with approximately 490,000 ha of forest being lost in Antioquia between 2000 and 2019 according to a report by the Antioquia Forest Observatory.

Fragmentation of habitat leading to inbreeding is a big problem for all while cat species. It occurs because of human exploitation of the landscape particularly forests through commercial enterprises such as mining. One example is the Florida Panther.

Below are some more articles on ocelots:

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