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Black panther

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A black panther is the melanistic colour variant of the leopard (Panthera pardus) and the jaguar (Panthera onca). Black panthers of both species have excess black pigments, but their typical rosettes are also present. They have been documented mostly in tropical forests, with black leopards in Africa and Asia, and black jaguars in South America. Melanism is caused by a recessive allele in the leopard, and by a dominant allele in the jaguar.


A melanistic leopard in Out of Africa Wildlife Park, Camp Verde, Arizona
Particularly prominent rosettes on a female black leopard at the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, Kromdraai

In 1788, Jean-Claude Delamétherie described a black leopard that was kept in the Tower of London and had been brought from Bengal.[1] In 1794, Friedrich Albrecht Anton Meyer proposed the scientific name Felis fusca for this cat, the Indian leopard (P. p. fusca).[2][3] In 1809, Georges Cuvier described a black leopard kept in the Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes that had been brought from Java. Cuvier proposed the name Felis melas, the Javan leopard (P. p. melas).[3][4] By the late 19th century, the occurrence of black and spotted leopard cubs in the same litter had been repeatedly recorded in India. Black leopards were thought to be more common in Travancore and in the hills of southern India than in other parts of the country.[5] Black leopards were also frequently encountered in southern Myanmar.[6] By 1929, the Natural History Museum, London had skins of black leopards collected in South Africa, Nepal, Assam and Kanara in India.[7] Black leopards were thought to be common on the Malay Peninsula and on Java.[8]

A black African leopard (P. p. pardus) was sighted in the alpine zone of Mount Kenya in the winter of 1989–1990.[9] In Kenya's Laikipia County, a black leopard was photographed by a camera trap in 2007; in 2018, a female subadult black leopard was repeatedly recorded together with a spotted leopard about 50 km (31 mi) farther east in a grassland.[10]

In India's Western Ghats, black leopards were sighted and photographed in 2010 and 2012 in the Kas Plateau Reserved Forest, and in Bhadra Wildlife Sanctuary in 2012.[11] In 2015, a dead black leopard was found on a highway near Satara in Maharashtra.[12] In May 2012, a black leopard was photographed at an elevation of 4,300 m (14,100 ft) in Nepal's Kanchenjunga Conservation Area.[13]

At least one black leopard was photographed in mixed deciduous forest in Thailand's Kaeng Krachan National Park during a one-year-long camera trapping survey from 2003 to 2004.[14] In 2009, black leopards were photographed more often than spotted leopards in Kui Buri National Park.[15] Most leopards recorded at 16 sites south of the Kra Isthmus between 1996 and 2009 were black, indicating a near-fixation of melanism in Peninsular Malaysia.[16] In 2019, a black individual was photographed outside a protected area in Jeli District.[17] Both black and spotted leopards were recorded in Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park in West Java between 2005 and 2017.[18]

Frequency of melanism appears to be approximately 11% over the leopard's range. Data on the distribution of leopard populations indicates that melanism occurs in five subspecies in the wild: the Indian leopard, Javan leopard, African leopard, Indochinese leopard (P. p. delacouri) and Sri Lankan leopard (P. p. kotiya). Based on records from camera traps, melanistic leopards occur foremost in tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests.[19]

Melanism in the leopard is conferred by a recessive allele.[20] It is thought that melanism confers a selective advantage under certain conditions since it is more common in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Preliminary studies also suggest that melanism might be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.[21] The typical spots and rosettes are present but hidden due to the excess melanin.[22]

The taxonomic status of captive black leopards and the extent of hybridization between the Javan leopard and other leopard subspecies is uncertain. Therefore, coordinated breeding programs for black leopards do not exist in European and North American zoos.[23] Black leopards occupy space needed for breeding endangered leopard subspecies and are not included within the North American Species Survival Plan.[24][25] A black Amur leopard (P. p. orientalis) was exhibited at the San Diego Zoo in 2017.[26]

A pseudo-melanistic leopard has a normal background color, but the spots are more densely packed than normal, and merge to obscure the golden-brown background color. Any spots on the flanks and limbs that have not merged into the mass of swirls and stripes are unusually small and discrete, rather than forming rosettes. The face and underparts are paler and dappled, like those of ordinary spotted leopards.[27]


A melanistic jaguar
A melanistic jaguar at the Henry Doorly Zoo

In 1801, Félix de Azara described a black jaguar observed by local people near the Paraná River in Paraguay.[28] In 2004, a female black jaguar was recorded in Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental.[29] In 2009, a black jaguar was photographed by a camera trap for the first time in Costa Rica's Alberto Manuel Brenes Biological Reserve.[30] In Barbilla National Park, black jaguars were recorded in 2013.[31] In the mountains of the Cordillera de Talamanca, 104 records of jaguars were obtained between 2010 and 2019; 26 of them showed melanistic jaguars.[32] In eastern Panama, black jaguars were repeatedly photographed in the Mamoní River Valley between 2016 and 2018, mostly in primary forest.[33] Melanism in the jaguar is caused by deletions in the melanocortin 1 receptor gene and conferred by a dominant allele.[34] Five black jaguars were monitored by researchers in the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve in the Brazilian State of Amazonas between 2003 and 2018. The researchers studied their behaviour in Várzea forest.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Delamétherie, J.-C. (1788). "Description d'une Panthère noire" [Description of a black Panther]. Observations et Mémoires sur la Physique, sur l'Histoire Naturelle et sur les Arts et Métiers, etc. (in French). 33: 45.
  2. ^ Meyer, F. A. A. (1794). "Über de la Metheries schwarzen Panther [About de la Metheries black Panther]". Zoologische Annalen (in German). Vol. Erster Band. Weimar: Im Verlage des Industrie-Comptoirs. pp. 394–396. Archived from the original on 5 May 2024. Retrieved 14 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b Pocock, R. I. (1930). "The Panthers and Ounces of Asia". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 34 (1): 307–336.
  4. ^ Cuvier, G. (1809). "Recherches sur les espėces vivantes de grands chats, pour servir de preuves et d'éclaircissement au chapitre sur les carnassiers fossils". Annales du Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle. XIV: 136–164.
  5. ^ Blanford, W. T. (1888). "Felis pardus. The Leopard or Panther". The Fauna of British India, including Ceylon and Burma. Mammalia: Volume 1. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 67–71.
  6. ^ Mason, F. (1882). "F. pardus, L. The leopard". Burma, its people and productions; or, Notes on the fauna, flora, and minerals of Tenasserim, Pegu, and Burma. Vol. 1. Geology, mineralogy, and zoology (Rewritten and enlarged by W. Theobald ed.). Hertford: Chief Commissioner of British Burma. p. 472.
  7. ^ Pocock, R. I. (1929). "Black panthers – an inquiry". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 33 (3): 693–694.
  8. ^ Pocock, R. I. (1930). "The Panthers and Ounces of Asia". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 34 (1): 65–82.
  9. ^ Young, T. P. & Evans, M. E. (1993). "Alpine vertebrates of Mount Kenya, with particular notes on the rock hyrax". Journal of the East African Natural History Society. 82 (202): 54–79.
  10. ^ Pilfold, N. W.; Letoluai, A.; Ruppert, K.; Glikman, J. A.; Stacy-Dawes, J.; O'Connor, D. & Owen, M. (2019). "Confirmation of black leopard (Panthera pardus pardus) living in Laikipia County, Kenya". African Journal of Ecology. 57 (2): 270–273. doi:10.1111/aje.12586. S2CID 92543492.
  11. ^ Sayyed, A. & Mahabal, A. (2013). "Records of the melanistic Leopard Panthera pardus (Linnaeus) from Western Ghats area of Maharashtra and Karnataka, India". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 110 (2): 151.
  12. ^ Sayyed, A. & Mahabal, A. (2015). "Second record of melanistic leopard Panthera pardus (Linnaeus) from Satara, Maharashtra: a case of roadkill". Zoo's Print. 30 (5): 29.
  13. ^ Thapa, K.; Pradhan, N. M. B.; Barker, J.; Dahal, M.; Bhandari, A. R.; Gurung, G. S.; Rai, D. P.; Thapa, G. J.; Shrestha, S.; Singh, G. R. (2013). "High elevation record of a leopard cat in the Kangchenjunga Conservation Area, Nepal". Cat News (58): 26–27.
  14. ^ Ngoprasert, D.; Lynam, A. J. & Gale, G. A. (2007). "Human disturbance affects habitat use and behaviour of Asiatic leopard "Panthera pardus" in Kaeng Krachan National Park, Thailand". Oryx. 41 (3): 343–351. doi:10.1017/S0030605307001102.
  15. ^ Steinmetz, R.; Seuaturien, N.; Chutipong, W. & Poonnil, B. (2009). The ecology and conservation of tigers and their prey in Kuiburi National Park, Thailand (PDF) (Report). Bangkok: WWF Thailand, Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 May 2021.
  16. ^ Kawanishi, K.; Sunquist, M. E.; Eizirik, E.; Lynam, A. J.; Ngoprasert, D.; Shahruddin, W. N. W.; Rayan, D. M.; Sharma, D. S. K. & Steinmetz, R. (2010). "Near fixation of melanism in panthers of the Malay Peninsula". Journal of Zoology. 282 (3): 201–206. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2010.00731.x.
  17. ^ Hambali, K.; Fazli, N. F. M.; Amir, A.; Fauzi, N.; Hassin, N. H.; Abas, M. A.; Karim, M. F. A. & Sow, A. Y. (2021). "The discovery of a melanistc Leopard Panthera pardus delacouri (Linnaeus, 1758) (Mammalia: Carnivora: Felidae) at Bukit Kudung in Jeli, Kelantan, Peninsular Malaysia: conservation and ecotourism". Journal of Threatened Taxa. 13 (1): 17513–17516. doi:10.11609/jott.6060.13.1.17513-17516.
  18. ^ Ario, A.; Supian; Hidayat, E.; Hidayatullah, R.; Rustiadi, A.; Gunawan, A.; Triprajawan, T.; Sopian, I.; Zatnika, R. R.; Yusup, D. M.; Hindrayani, W.; Mulyanto, A. & Iskandar, D. (2018). "Population dynamics and ecology of Javan leopard, Panthera pardus melas, in Gunung Gede Pangrango National Park, West Java". Journal of Indonesian Natural History. 6 (1): 6–13. Archived from the original on 27 September 2021. Retrieved 15 May 2021.
  19. ^ Da Silva, L. G., K.; Kawanishi, K.; Henschel P.; Kittle, A.; Sanei, A.; Reebin, A.; Miquelle, D.; Stein, A. B.; Watson, A.; Kekule, L. B.; Machado, R. B. & Eizirik, E. (2017). "Mapping black panthers: Macroecological modeling of melanism in leopards (Panthera pardus)". PLoS One. 12 (4): e0170378. Bibcode:2017PLoSO..1270378D. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0170378. PMC 5381760. PMID 28379961.
  20. ^ Robinson, R. (1970). "Inheritance of the black form of the leopard Panthera pardus". Genetica. 41 (1): 190–197. doi:10.1007/BF00958904. PMID 5480762. S2CID 5446868.
  21. ^ Sunquist, F. (2007). "Malaysian Mystery Leopards". National Wildlife Magazine. 45 (1). Archived from the original on 13 August 2022. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  22. ^ Schneider, A.; David, V. A.; Johnson, W. E.; O'Brien, S. J.; Barsh, G. S.; Menotti-Raymond, M. & Eizirik, E. (2012). "How the leopard hides its spots: ASIP mutations and melanism in wild cats". PLOS ONE. 7 (12): e50386. Bibcode:2012PLoSO...750386S. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050386. PMC 3520955. PMID 23251368.
  23. ^ Gippoliti, S. & Meijaard, E. (2007). "Taxonomic uniqueness of the Javan Leopard; an opportunity for zoos to save it". Contributions to Zoology. 76 (1): 55–57. doi:10.1163/18759866-07601005. S2CID 55715897. Archived from the original on 8 October 2019. Retrieved 4 September 2019.
  24. ^ Richardson, D. M. (2001). "A simple analysis of leopard (Panthera pardus) space within EAZA collections". In Hiddinga, B.; Brouwer, K. (eds.). EAZA Yearbook 1999/2000. Amsterdam: EAZA Executive Office. pp. 391–392.
  25. ^ Swanson, B.; Fletchall, N. & Shoemaker, A. (2003). Felid Taxon Advisory Group North American Regional Collection Plan 2003–2005. Bay Lake: Disney's Animal Kingdom.
  26. ^ Parham, D. (2017). "Black Beauty". Zoonooz. Archived from the original on 24 October 2018. Retrieved 24 October 2018.
  27. ^ Gamble, C. (2004). Leopards: Natural History & Conservation. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press. ISBN 978-0896586567.
  28. ^ Azara, F. de (1801). "L'Yagouarété". Essais sur l'histoire naturelle des quadrupedes de la province du Paraguay. Vol. 1. Paris: Charles Pougens. pp. 114–132.
  29. ^ Dinets, V. & Polechla, P. J. (2005). "First documentation of melanism in the jaguar (Panthera onca) from northern Mexico". Cat News. 42: 18. Archived from the original on 26 September 2006.
  30. ^ Núñez, M. C. & Jiménez, E. C. (2009). "A new record of a black jaguar, Panthera onca (Carnivora: Felidae) in Costa Rica". Brenesia. 71: 67–68. Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 12 April 2021.
  31. ^ Sáenz-Bolaños, C.; Montalvo, V.; Fuller, T. K. & Carrillo, E. (2015). "Records of black jaguars at Parque Nacional Barbilla, Costa Rica". Cat News (62): 38–39.
  32. ^ Mooring, M. S.; Eppert, A. A. & Botts, R. T. (2020). "Natural Selection of Melanism in Costa Rican Jaguar and Oncilla: A Test of Gloger's Rule and the Temporal Segregation Hypothesis". Tropical Conservation Science. 13: 1–15. doi:10.1177/1940082920910364.
  33. ^ Yacelga, M. & Craighead, K. (2019). "Melanistic jaguars in Panama". Cat News (70): 39–41. Archived from the original on 29 November 2021. Retrieved 14 April 2021.
  34. ^ Eizirik, E.; Yuhki, N.; Johnson, W. E.; Menotti-Raymond, M.; Hannah, S. S. & O'Brien, S. J. (2003). "Molecular Genetics and Evolution of Melanism in the Cat Family". Current Biology. 13 (5): 448–453. doi:10.1016/S0960-9822(03)00128-3. PMID 12620197. S2CID 19021807.
  35. ^ Publicidade, W5. "Onça-preta é monitorada na Amazônia por pesquisadores do Instituto Mamirauá". Instituto de Desenvolvimento Sustentável Mamirauá (in Brazilian Portuguese). Archived from the original on 20 August 2022. Retrieved 20 August 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)

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