Rare and beautiful, the black panther is a favourite animal of many people. Surrounded by mystery, this elusive ghost of the forest has captured the fascination of humans for hundreds of years. However the history of black panther sightings is largely debated. There is a lot of confusion over the terms and conditions that describe these big cats so I will attempt to break it down.
The term black panther has been used over centuries to describe many different types of cat. In reality the black panther doesn’t actually exist. A true black panther is actually the melanistic form of the leopard. Melanism in an increased amount of black or nearly black pigment in the upper layers of the skin.
The presence of melanin in the big cats occurs as a genetic mutation. It results in an almost pure black looking cat, but if you looked close enough, not even the darkest colouration of these cats are ever truly black. The rosettes can be seen underneath the top layer of skin, and again there are different variations in the shade depending on how much melanin is in the skin. So what you think is a completely black cat you are seeing, most of the time is actually a black leopard.
The term black panther, can also be used to describe the black jaguar. This large cat is most commonly found through Central and South America. No commonly coloured leopards or jaguars have ever been spotted in the North American wild (excluding Arizona).
The scientific name of the Jaguar is Panthera Onca, and the scientific name of the leopard is Panthera Pardus, so it can be seen why people continue to call them panthers. Panthera is a genus of the family Felidae, which is the biological family of the cat. This contains four well known living species. The Tiger, the Lion, the Jaguar and the Leopard.
There has been no evidence to support the supposed sightings of black tigers or black lions either, sorry to burst your bubble.White tigers are inbred for people to gawk over, which is cruel. They are not produced in the wild.
The black panthers allegedly reported being seen in North America, England and Australia will remain as creatures whose existence has been suggested. They would be unrecognised by scientific consensus and their presence in reality is regarded as highly unlikely.
I love all big cats, and Tigers have to be my personal favourite. However due to their esoteric existence and astonishing aesthetic qualities the black leopard or black jaguar has now become on par with the almighty Tiger. I have my own cat, who I rescued eight months ago, and I was surprised by how similar wild cat and domestic cat behaviour is . They’re very smilar in looks too, as seen from the photo at the bottom of this page. I’ve visited leopard sanctuaries in Sri Lanka, Tiger Temples in Thailand and seen Lions on Safari in Zambia and the behaviour between all cats is similar. I think the animal – human relationship is under valued in society. Preservation and appreciation of our natural world is essential to maximising our potential as humans and its something I will always strive to do.