The Onza - a missing link between the puma and the cheetah?
The following is reproduced from The Catamount Vol. 2 Number 2 February 2001
It sure looks like an odd subspecies of cougar, doesn't it? A lot of people say that's what it is. But there are some remarkable differences, especially when you consider the accounts of the species handed down since the days of the conquistadors.
This female was dissected in Mexico in 1986. She had coloration like a puma except for the horizontal stripes on the inside of the forelimbs. (Peter Jackson has reported "Faint horizontal stripes may occur on the upper forelegs." in the puma. Chris Smith). The tooth pattern was somewhat different from the Puma, the body is much more slender, and the legs while longer had much more sturdy bones. The non-retractable claws seem to indicate a cursorial hunting style close to that of a cheetah. It is noteworthy that the cheetah is the closest living relative of the Puma. The paws are also narrower and more elongated than those of a puma.
The Onza seems to be confined to the Sierra Madre Occidentale mountain range in Sonora and Sinaloa Province in Mexico. It only occasionally comes down to the lowlands, and the rugged terrain where they live is impassable to vehicles and nearly impossible for riding on horseback.
Little is known about this cat other than it eats deer. It is also said to be faster and more aggressive than either the Puma or Jaguar, and the locals are more afraid of it than any other native cat.
These are not the only rarely-understood carnivores out there. In Great Britain there are many people who swear they have seen a mysterious large black cat which appears to be a melanistic puma. This cat, also referred to as a "Catamount" (amongst other names) may have been released by an owner when a ban on exotic cats swept the isles. However there are many people, some armed with evidence, that claim the mystery cat is a yet undescribed species, possibly the European cousin of the puma.
The study of animals not yet proven to exist is called "Cryptozoology." The most famous subjects of cryptozoological study are Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster. However, as with the Onza, the subjects of cryptozoologists are not always so far fetched. So what is the Onza? You decide.
A cat shot in Mexico's western Sierra Madre in 1986 and suspected to be the mysterious "Mexican Onza" has been proved by molecular examination to be a normal puma Puma concolor (Dratch et al., 1993-1996).
The revelation has disappointed those who hoped that, at least, an onza had been found. There has long been a belief in the western Sierra Madre that three large cats are to be found there - leones (pumas), tigres (jaguars) and onzas. References to the third large cat date from 1519, when Bernal Diaz del Castillo, who was with Cortez's conquering army, said he saw lions of two kinds in Montezuma's palace zoo. Later, Jesuit missionaries described a cat that was longer and leaner than the puma, a leaner body, longer legs, and a very aggressive nature (Dratch et al., 1993-1996).
A rancher in Sinoloa State, in north-western Mexico, shot what he thought was a jaguar on the night of 1 January 1986. He discovered that it was not a jaguar, but seemed different from a puma; it had the colouration of a puma, but was lean, and had long legs. Richard Greenwell, Secretary of the International Society of Cryptozoology, and colleagues examined the specimen and sent tissue samples for analysis at Stephen J. O'Brien's laboratory at the National Cancer Institute in the USA. They were subjected to several biochemical assays.
"The resulting protein and mitochondrial DNA characteristics of the onza were indistinguishable from those of North American pumas," the scientists reported. (Dratch et al., 1993-1996).
Dratch, P., Roslund, W., Martenson, J., Culver, M., and O'Brien, S. 1993-1996. molecular genetic identification of a Mexican onza species as a puma (Puma concolor). Cryptozoology Vol. 12; 42-49.
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