‘Black panther’ not different species but melanistic colour variant – Wildlife Dept

ECONOMYNEXT – The dark-furred leopard that made headlines earlier this week is not of an extinct species as claimed by some but an otherwise ordinary leopard displaying a colour mutation, experts said.

Images of a so called black panther that was captured by a trap camera in the central hills in October last year went viral online yesterday following an announcement of its discovery by the Department of Wildlife (DWC).

The animal is a melanistic colour variant of the Sri Lankan leopard (Panthera pardus kotiya) and not its own species, the Department said today.

DWC Director General M G C Sooriyabandara told EconomyNext that reports claiming the panther is of an extinct species are false.

“It is not a species different from the Sri Lankan leopard. The animal has got black fur due to a colour variation and there is nothing really unusual about it. There were many reports circulating in the media that it’s of an extinct species that’s been rediscovered. This is not true, since [species of the panther genus] have a long lifespan and therefore it is not possible a species to go extinct and be found again within a short period of time,” he said.

“It is not scientifically proven that these panthers had gone extinct,” he added.

Meanwhile in a statement issued yesterday, the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), an organisation engaged in wildlife protection, explained that ‘black panther’ is a misnomer.

“Everyone has heard of a black panther, which in reality, is just a leopard with black background fur, which obscures the cat’s spots. It is not a separate species; in fact, black-furred and spotted cubs can be siblings born of the same litter. Known as melanism, black fur in leopards and domestic cats is the result of a single recessive gene for coat colour, whereas in jaguars it results from a single dominant gene.

“Melanistic or black individuals appear in many if not all species [of wild cats] but do so frequently among leopards, jaguars, margays, ocelots. So the ‘Black Panther’ is a misnomer. It is not a separate species of leopard. It is not a separate subspecies of leopard,” WPNS said.

DWC Director General Sooriyabandara urged the public to not disturb the animal.





“We request the public not to harm the leopard by trying to spot it in the wild, because there is nothing unusual about the animal. It is just like any other animal. Trying to spot it forcefully can disrupt its natural behaviour,” he said. (Colombo/Jan21/2020)

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