The following is a black & white picture of white puma. It is not an albino as it has pigmented skin and eyes and is a result of the condition known as as leucism. Albino animals have pink eyes and skin.
The following is a report from the USA where pumas are often described as 'cougars' are 'panthers'
There have been some reports of white and albino pumas including the following.
Federal agencies are prowling Red Rock Canyon for a menacing mountain lion
It was Friday afternoon and 17-year-old Robert Hernandez and his three high school friends got together as usual. They played some Playstation at Hernandez's Summerlin home, had some pizza, horsed around on the trampoline in the back yard. But when evening came, Hernandez and his friends, Michael Paley, Drew Williams and Kenneth Fox, headed out for Red Springs, a northern area of Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area that is accessible without entering the fee area.
"It was our regular place to go and get away from the city and talk about stuff, or mess around," says Hernandez. "It sounds corny to say, but for us it was one of those bonding places."
After what happened on the night of March 16, Hernandez says he will never go back.
He recalls that dusk was setting in while they sat on a wooden fence that surrounds the springs, trying to push each other off. That's when they heard it.
"Drew fell onto the other side of the fence," says Hernandez, "and then we heard this splash and rustle, like we had startled something."
Perhaps it was a deer or stray bighorn sheep. But that's not what Hernandez and his friends claim to have seen. "This thing was white, and long and fast," recalls Williams. "I remember we all just stopped breathing for a second as it leaped over the fence on the other side. We looked at each other and were like, 'Whoa!' Then we just booked."
Something is lurking in Red Rock. And according to eyewitness reports--given by people who have no knowledge of other sightings--it's not a deer, a burro or a bighorn sheep. Even U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials don't know what it is.
"The most we can say is the reports tend to be consistent in interesting ways," says Ernesto Herman, a game specialist. "People report that it's white and exhibits many behaviors consistent with that of a feline."
Some reports even place the mysterious animal as close as the back yards of Summerlin, the sprawling planned community that sits on Red Rock's doorstep. The reports range from the mundane to the fantastic. One report filed with Fish and Wildlife identified the animal as a white deer; another called it a "ghost-cat."
The sightings have stirred up a whirlwind of speculation among wildlife professionals and laypeople alike. The Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and UNLV's biological sciences department even met last week to form an organized party to collate the locations of sightings to pinpoint where the animal might be roaming.
"There are almost 200,000 acres to cover," says BLM fauna specialist Craig Minkler. "The wisest thing to do to would be to get our heads together before we set out."
Others aren't waiting for an official posse. One BLM employee has struck out on his own to track the animal after a chance encounter with it last month.
"There's no doubt in my mind that what I saw wasn't the usual indigenous wildlife you expect to see at Red Rock," says Phillip Lewis, a BLM biologist who claims he came within five feet of the animal while out collecting soil samples. "It must have been napping in the stand of yucca where I was taking samples. I heard a noise and saw the yucca just shake. Next thing I know I'm face to face with what looks like a white puma. But it wasn't whiter than I was at that moment, I'll tell you that."
Lewis says the animal darted west and into some underbrush. Lewis grabbed his camera and managed to get a picture (see cover). Since then, he's devoted his weekends to hunting for the animal.
"I've got to know what that thing is," he says.
Creature or caricature?
Could this be a collective delusion? Perhaps. But UNLV zoology professor Mary Veen says she has the answer. After studying reports and the photograph taken by Lewis, Veen concludes the animal is an albino mountain lion.
"Albinoism in mountain lions is especially rare, but it has been documented," Veen says. "Considering that there is a confirmed population of mountain lions in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, it's not at all far-fetched to think there might be one in Red Rock." Veen's theory: A mountain lion, which happens to have the albino mutation, trekked east from the the Humboldt-Toiyabe and now calls Red Rock home.
The mountain lion (also known as the puma, cougar panther or catamount) is the large, maneless member of the feline family. Its habitat ranges from mountains to deserts to jungles, from British Columbia to Patagonia. In North America it's called the eastern puma and is considered endangered. Eastern mountain lions usually eat deer for food, but have been known to kill livestock--and pets--on occasion.
Would they harm a human?
"We want to emphasize that that no people have been harmed by this animal, assuming there is such a thing," says the BLM's Minkler. "A tiny percentage of the people who have visited Red Rock have claimed a sighting, and that tiny percentage has never reported that the animal was hostile. It appears to want to be left alone."
Some don't want the animal written about. When contacted for this article, Jane Feldman, co-chair of conservation for the Southern Nevada branch of the Sierra Club, advised against even publishing a piece about the albino mountain lion--if that, in fact, what it is.
"It will end up giving mountain lions even more of a bad rap," Feldman says. "It will cause unjustified fear. And everyone knows we kill things that we are afraid of. The mountain lion is a sensitive species, and this area of the Mojave is part of its natural habitat."
As if the mountain lion doesn't have a bad enough rap already. In recent years, mountain lion attacks in the West have been on the rise and lion populations are on the rebound. According to a 1998 Time article, only nine fatal mountain lion attacks occurred between 1890 and 1990. But in the 1990s alone, there were three deadly attacks. And even those that aren't fatal should give nature-lovers pause when visiting their favorite park.
In 1998, a 6-year-old camper was attacked by a mountain lion on a hiking trail near Missoula, Mont.
In Villa Park, Calif., a mountain lion climbed a pine tree into a resident's back yard. It was later killed by animal control officials, who found that it hadn't eaten for days.
One mountain lion even wandered into a shopping mall in Montecito, Calif.
"People have to understand that we're encroaching on their territory," says Thom Lawson, a senior wildlife biologist and cougar expert at the Hornocker Wildlife Institute in Idaho. "Not only are we reducing the size of their range, but we're fragmenting it. Urban growth is a noose that's growing tighter and tighter around the habitat of the puma. The encounters and sightings are only going to increase."
The fact that the mountain lion population is on the rise complicates matters. Since many states implemented laws that ban the hunting of mountain lions, the national mountain lion population has doubled to an estimated 32,000 since the early '70s. More lions and less habitat means more sightings. It also means they're going to seek out alternative prey when their shrinking habitat no longer sustains the food chain.
"When animal control kills a mountain lion that has wandered into an urban area, they usually discover that the animal is starving," says Vincent Wales, a wildlife biologist who sits on the board of the Mountain Lion Society in Missoula, Mont.
No white mountain lions have been reported to be wandering the streets of Las Vegas, but with Summerlin creeping ever closer to Red Rock, who knows how long it could be before that happens? At least one Summerlin resident, Cynthia Scholm, thinks the animal has already visited her neighborhood.
She suspects the albino mountain lion is responsible for her missing Yorkshire terrier, Bitsy. About a month ago, Scholm had let Bitsy into the back yard, as she did every night at dusk. Scholm says she was adjusting the thermostat when she heard Bitsy yelp--and then silence.
"She wasn't there. It was like she'd just been abducted," Scholm says. Scholm was even more spooked when she saw a smear of blood on the grass. She called the police and filed a report. She says officers almost laughed when she said she thought an animal had taken Bitsy. Officer Don Baldwin, who took the report, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
"He said it was probably some juvenile prank, and that I would probably have my dog back in a day or two," Scholm says. She hasn't seen Bitsy since.
Wanted dead or alive
While some people see a rare, exotic animal, others see dollar signs. If the animal is indeed an albino mountain lion, it would prove valuable to wildlife researchers interested in studying genetic mutations--and a financial boon in terms of grants and awards. BLM biologist Phillip Lewis has even set out on his own in search of the animal, despite the BLM's promise to work with UNLV's biological sciences department and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. He spends most weekends and evenings tracking the animal, and says he's almost worked out the animal's roam pattern by studying its footprints, feces and even burro and deer carcasses left behind by the animal.
"Once you get a handle on an animal's roam pattern, it's fairly easy to locate," Lewis says. "It's like connecting the dots." Lewis hasn't connected all the dots yet, but he says the animal's roam pattern seems to arc right into Summerlin.
"I'm not surprised," he says. "That was probably his roam pattern before the development sprang up, and it's his roam pattern now. His roam pattern is where he's used to finding prey and water. That's his comfort zone, and he's going to protect it."
Lewis, an experienced hunter, carries a trainer-grade tranquilizer gun in case he comes across the animal. Once he determines the animal's complete route, he says he'll lie in wait and hopefully intercept it. Ideally, Lewis would tranquilize it; Fish and Wildlife would handle removal and transport, but Lewis would have first research rights.
And if things go awry when Lewis attempts to capture the animal?
"I carry a flare gun just in case," Lewis says. Summerlin residents and Red Rock visitors might want to do the same.
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