A zoo in Nicaragua opened its doors on Friday so visitors can meet Itzae, an almost four-month-old albino female puma that has caused a sensation on social media since the announcement of her birth in August.
“I’m here seeing this little animal that we hadn’t been able to see, only on social media,” Marta Vargas, 59, who visited with a daughter and granddaughter, told AFP at the Thomas Belt Zoo in the city of Juigalpa, Chontales department, 139 km from Managua.
Named “Gift from God” (Itzae, in Mayan), the albino puma specimen was born in a litter with two other cubs, Itzel and Itziar, which have the usual light brown fur.
The genetic mutation that caused her white pigmentation is rare among animal species, especially in these felines, of which there are only four documented cases in the world, according to National Geographic magazine.
“She was given a complete clinical checkup (…) and it was determined that, along with her sisters, she is in optimal health,” veterinarian Carlos Molina explained to AFP.
Itzae is “more active, much more playful, she’s much more aggressive, even compared to her sisters,” he added. Since she was born, the animal was kept away from the public, but the few images published went viral.
The zoo kept the cage where Itzae, her mother and sisters live covered with a tarp, but starting this Friday they will partially lift it a few hours in the morning for a month, so visitors can appreciate the rare feline.
Green and white balloons were placed around the cage and a sign reading “We are Itzae’s home” invites visitors to take pictures with the image of the puma.
Mauricio Espinoza, the zoo’s environmental education manager, said they expected the number of visits, estimated at around 3,000 to 4,000 people per month, to double later on.
The puma is the second largest feline in America after the jaguar, and the fourth in the world after the tiger and lion. “For me it’s a strange thing,” said Juigalpa resident Mauricio Martínez, 63, who took his granddaughter to the zoo.
“I feel proud to have that species here in Juigalpa (…). I invite the people to come to the zoo so they can see that it’s a real thing, that it’s not an invention of the people or those who work at the zoo, that the little animal is really alive. Many said it only appeared in the photo, but not,” Martínez affirmed, at the foot of Itzae’s cage.