The elusive melanistic leopard

Posted by Anita Froneman on 28 July 2020

Black ‘panthers’ are so rarely seen and awe-inspiring that many have taken to believe these big cats are mythical creatures. They are very real, however and are in fact not a species on their own, but rather melanistic cats in the genus Panthera. They are usually, but not always, leopards.

Melanism is a genetic condition in which an animal overproduces melanin, the dark colour pigment in skin or fur. The term ‘black panther’ is an umbrella term that refers to any big cat within the Panthera genus with a black coat, explains National Geographic.

Panthera comprises the species tiger, lion, jaguar, and leopard.

Interestingly, black panthers still have their spots, it is just not easily visible, making them appear to be solid black. ‘When their coat catches the sunlight in a certain way, you can see their spots very distinctly; at a bit of a distance, or if there is not direct sunlight on them, they look just like a solid black animal,’ Patrick Thomas, general curator of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo, told National Geographic.

Melanistic leopards occur mostly in Asia. A photographer was lucky enough to capture an incredible sighting on film at just the right moment of a leopard and a black panther together in the Kabini Forest Reserve, India.


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The Eternal Couple . Saaya and Cleopatra have been courting since 4 years now and whenever they are together it’s a sight to behold. The forest comes alive as they trot nonchalantly in his fabled kingdom. Usually in the courting pairs generally it is the Male who takes charge and moves around with the female following close behind. But with this couple it was definitely Cleo who was in charge while the Panther followed. . This was shot on a surreal winter morning when a single Deer alarm led me to this breathtaking sight. . #kabini #love #leopard #nikon #wild #Natgeo #mithunhphotography #instagood #instadaily #jungle #bigcat #forest #wildlifephotography #nature #wildlife #blackpanther #melanistic #therealblackpanther #thebisonresort

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According to the photographer, Mithun H, the two are a couple named Saaya and Cleopatra. Mithun waited in the same spot for six days, hoping for a sighting of them, reports The Jakarta Post. ‘It was a fruitful wait though,’ Mithun said. ‘I could wait for [six] years for a moment like this.’

Take a look at some of his other footage of India’s melanistic leopards:


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Panther in the Rain . Fresh from a few days days back where we tracked the Black Panther on a beautiful monsoon drive in Kabini. . After nearly 3 months( longest ever) I was desperate to see this enigmatic creature. More so since when we last saw him in March he was involved in a mega tussle for territory and females with the new Khymara Male Leopard. It was simply magical to spend quality time with him again in the heart of his territory on a beautiful moss laden tree with the rains pelting down. He is looking fitter and stronger than ever before. Stay tuned for more pictures and stories to come from this surreal encounter. . #kabini #love #leopard #nikon #wild #Natgeo #mithunhphotography #instagood #instadaily #jungle #bigcat #forest #wildlifephotography #nature #wildlife #blackpanther #melanistic #therealblackpanther #thebisonresort

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Image credit: Mithun H. Photography

Also read:

Rare black leopard spotted in Goa Sanctuary

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