A White Panther is a white specimen of any of several species of larger cats. The word “Panther” is used in South America to mean Jaguar (Panthera onca), in some parts of North America to mean Cougar (Puma concolor) and elsewhere it refers to Leopards (Panthera pardus). Of these, white leopard appears to be the most common, although it is still very rare.
These cats may be the result of chinchilla mutation, leucism or albinism. Unlike the black, white panthers have not been selectively bred. The genus name Panthera is a taxonomic category that contains all the species of a particular group of felids, but as a general term “panther” is also used for other felids, more commonly for melanistic individuals, but also for white or normally-coloured (tawny or spotted) animals.
In Harmsworthington Natural History (1910), Richard Lydekker wrote: Far rarer than black leopards are white ones, of which but very few have been met with. As well as white Leopards, there are pale cream Leopards with pale markings and blue eyes. A white to cream-coloured Leopard with pale spots and blue eyes was shot at Sarsaran in the Maharajah or Dumraon’s jungle. Similar specimens have been recorded from southern China, from Hazaribagh in India and from Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). R.I. Pocock reported a purely white skin from East Africa; spots were only visible in reflected light.
In “The Wildlife of India”, E. P. Gee wrote that in 1947, a letter in “The Statesman” of Calcutta asked who has ever seen a white leopard? The question was answered a few years later in “The Field” describing a skin obtained from a leopard shot in a princely state near Patna, Bihar (India): Beezo sesh. The colouring was not due to albinism but lacked melanistic characteristics, there being no black markings, and the colour being of various shades of orange and cream resembling that of a really good tortoiseshell cat. Another very pale-coloured Leopard was reported in “The Field” in 1953 regarding London Zoo’s Leopard from West Persia exhibited in 1910 or 1911: indistinct, blackish spots in summer. When autumn came its now longer winter coat lost the spots and became so pale as to be difficult to see towards dusk. This indicates a chinchilla mutation instead of albinism. In the chinchilla mutation, the pigment is only deposited towards the end of the hair shaft – the longer the hair the paler the effect.
Jinx, a wild-caught albino Leopard was kept at the Central Park Zoo in USA between 1935 to1960. It came from Mozambique. The descriptions about the animal suggest the markings were visible in certain light. White leopards were apparently born at Los Angeles (USA) Wildlife Weighstation; these were leucistic, i.e. white but with normally coloured eyes. They developed spots as they grew older.
In 1960s, one of two cubs born to a pair of normal spotted leopards in Cheyenne Mountain Zoological Park in Colorado was pure white, but turned black by the time it reached the age of five months. In another case, a pair of white cubs was born to normal (spotted) leopards at Rome Zoo in May 1978. Both had to be hand-reared. The male cub was whitish with light grey spots. It died shortly afterwards due to internal abnormalities. The surviving female was snow white in color, but as she grew older, her coat turned pale grey and the spots became visible.
A white, but seemingly not albino, leopard cub born in Africa was sold to a zoo in Japan in 1999 and is called “Nana“. Two cubs were born at the Wildlife World Zoo in Arizona; one, named “Isis” was believed to be the only white Leopard to be born in captivity. Several experts confirmed that she has white skin, though she was also described as having spots.
The Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society published an article in its 1993 issue listing 11 instances of albino, or partial-albino, leopards noted between 1905 and 1965. Most of these cases were from the Indian states of Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Unlike melanism, albinism would make a Leopard more conspicuous and a less successful predator. Just being unusual and conspicuous, such Leopards would have fallen victim to big game hunters’ guns.