Species: Panthera pardis or Pathera onca or possibly Puma Concolor
(From Wikipedia.org, the free encyclopedia)
The black panther is the common name for a black specimen (a genetic variant) of several species of cats. Zoologically, a panther is the same as a leopard, while the term Panthera describes the whole family of big cats. But, in North America, the term panther is also used for puma. In South America it could also mean a jaguar. Elsewhere in the world it refers to leopard (originally individual animals with longer tails were deemed panthers and others were leopards; it is a common misconception that panther means a melanistic individual).
It does not exist as a separate species. The genetic variant is most common in jaguars (Panthera onca) where it is due to a dominant gene mutation, and leopards (Panthera pardus) where it is due to a recessive gene mutation. Close examination of one of these black cats will show that the typical markings are still there, and are simply hidden by the surplus of the black pigment melanin. Cats with melanism can co-exist with litter mates that do not have this condition. In cats that hunt mainly at night the condition is not detrimental. White panthers also exist, these being albino or leucistic individuals of the same three species.
It is probable that melanism is a favorable mutation with a selective advantage under certain conditions for its possessor, since it is more commonly found in regions of dense forest, where light levels are lower. Melanism can also be linked to beneficial mutations in the immune system.
In jaguars, the mutation is dominant hence black jaguars can produce both black and spotted cubs, but spotted jaguars only produce spotted cubs when bred together. In leopards, the mutation is recessive and some spotted leopards can produce black cubs (if both parents carry the gene in hidden form) while black leopards always breed true when mated together. In stuffed mounted specimens, black leopards often fade to a rusty color, but black jaguars fade to chocolate brown. The black jaguar was considered a separate species by indigenous peoples.
In Harmsworth Natural History (1910), WH Hudson writes,
These are the most common form of black panther in captivity and have been selectively bred for decades as exhibits or exotic pets (this inbreeding for the sake of appearance has adversely affected temperament). They are smaller and more lightly built than jaguars. The spotted pattern is still visible on black leopards, especially from certain angles where the effects is of printed silk.
Black leopards are reported from moist densely-forested areas in south-western China, Burma, Assam and Nepal; from Travancore and other parts of southern India and are said to be common in Java and the southern part of the Malay peninsula where they may be more numerous than spotted leopards. They are less common in tropical Africa, but have been reported from Ethiopia (formerly Abyssinia), the forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. One was recorded by Peter Turnbull-Kemp in the equatorial forest of Cameroon.
Adult black panthers (leopards) are more temperamental (nervous or vicious) than their spotted counterparts. It is a myth that their mothers often reject them at a young age because of their colour. In actuality, they are more temperamental because they have been inbred (e.g. brother/sister, father/daughter, mother/son matings) to preserve the coloration. The poor temperament has been bred into the strain as a side-effect of inbreeding. It is this poor temperament that leads to problems of maternal care in captivity as the proximity of humans stresses the mother. According to Funk And Wagnalls‘ Wildlife Encyclopedia, black leopards are less fertile than normal leopards having average litters of 1.8, compared to 2.1. This may be due to their high-strung nature.
In the early 1980s, Glasgow Zoo, Scotland acquired a 10 year old black leopard from Dublin Zoo, Ireland. She was exhibited for several years before moving to Madrid Zoo, Spain. This leopard had a uniformly black coat profusely sprinkled with white hairs as though draped with spider webs. She was therefore nicknamed the Cobweb Panther. The condition appeared to be vitiligo and as she aged, the white became more extensive. Since then, other Cobweb Panthers have been reported and photographed in zoos.
There are no authenticated cases of true melanistic pumas. Black pumas have been reported in Kentucky, one of which had a paler belly. There have been reports of glossy black pumas from Kansas, and Eastern Nebraska. These are known as the North American Black Panther (NABP) and are cryptozoological animals. However no one has ever taken a picture of a Black Puma, no breeder in the world has ever been able to produce one, and no hunter has ever shot one. All breeders of pumas in the world agree that the ‘Black Puma’ is nothing more than a myth. This is probably due to most people being inexperienced in what different breeds of cats actually look like and mistaking one breed for another.
In his “Histoire Naturelle” (1749), Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, wrote of the “Black Cougar”:
‘M. de la Borde, King’s physician at Cayenne, informs me, that in the [South American] Continent there are three species of rapacious animals; that the first is the jaguar, which is called the tiger; that the second is the couguar [sic], called the red tiger, on account of the uniform redness of his hair; that the jaguar is of the size of a large bull-dog, and weighs about 200 pounds; that the couguar is smaller, less dangerous, and not so frequent in the neighbourhood of Cayenne as the jaguar; and that both these animals take six years in acquiring their full growth. He adds, that there is a third species in these countries, called the black tiger, of which we have given a figure under the appellation of the black couguar.’
‘The head,’ says M. de la Borde, ‘is pretty similar to that of the common couguar; but the animal has long black hair, and likewise a long tail, with strong whiskers. He weighs not above forty pounds. The female brings forth her young in the hollows of old trees.’ This black couguar is most likely a margay or ocelot, which are under forty pounds, live in trees, and do occur in a melanistic phase.
Another description of a black cougar was provided by Mr Pennant:
‘Black tiger, or cat, with the head black, sides, fore part of the legs, and the tail, covered with short and very glossy hairs, of a dusky colour, sometimes spotted with black, but generally plain: Upper lips white: At the corner of the mouth a black spot: Long hairs above each eye, and long whiskers on the upper lip: Lower lip, throat, belly, and the inside of the legs, whitish, or very pale ash-colour: Paws white: Ears pointed: Grows to the size of a heifer of a year old: Has vast strength in its limbs.-- Inhabits Brasil and Guiana: Is a cruel and fierce beast; much dreaded by the Indians; but happily is a scarce species.’
(Pennant’s Synops. of quad., p 180).
According to his translator Smellie (1781), the description was taken from two black cougars exhibited in London some years previously. For more recent sightings in North America of ‘black pumas’, visit Cryptozoology.com and search ‘black panther’. You may read about a number of sightings there, but always bear in mind that people think they see many things, especially when they want to (eg. aliens) and a lack of physical evidence for common sightings suggests very strongly that people are not seeing what they think they are seeing. Seeing a normal cougar in your headlights, or jumping over a hedge near dusk, for example could possibly seem like seeing a black animal to human eyes. Nevertheless I don’t completely deny that it may be possible for melanistic pumas to exist.
Sightings of large black cats have also been reported in Australia, which has no native felines at all. On a poster about mysterious animals in Australia, the black panther is described as a phenomena that can be explained by feral dogs and cats.
Another common explanation is, "The circus came to town and a panther escaped", or "The Americans let them loose after WWII." These explanations don‘t stack up however. Firstly, sightings go back to 1870. The sightings occur widely from Western Australia to Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland. One sighting by police in Victoria claims that the panther-like cat was about 27 metres long, including the tail!
If you are not sure of some of the terminology used on this site,
click here for an excellent glossary at Lion Crusher.com.