When were Black Panther's animals discovered?

Melanism: The Story Behind Africa's Black Panther

The pictures are indeed impressive: With the help of a high-resolution camera trap, Will Burrard-Lucas photographed a black leopard in Kenya's Laikipia Wilderness in the center of the country and reported about it on his blog. The photos of the mystical creature quickly went around the planet, showing all the elegance and beauty of these big cats. But then some things went wrong in the reporting. In a great many media you could read that this was the first evidence of a black panther in Africa for over 100 years - or at least the first picture since 1909. You could also read several times that this "species" was threatened with extinction, at least in Africa .

In fact, black panthers are not a separate species, but a melanistic variety of the widespread leopard (Panthera pardus)which occurs in various subspecies in Africa and Asia. Melanism is inherited through a specific gene, usually suppressed by a dominant gene, which in turn causes the usual yellowing of the coat. Black leopards can be born when two adult animals mate, both of which carry the recessive gene for melanism and pass it on. This appears to be very rare in Africa, but is much more common in Southeast Asia. It is assumed that there is a connection with the habitat of the animals: In the dense rainforest, the black color may be advantageous when hunting because the cats blend in with their surroundings in the dark undergrowth. In Africa's savannah, on the other hand, the light fur with the dark rosettes offers the optimal contrast to the vegetation: Black panthers would therefore have no selection advantage here.

It is therefore not correct to say that the black panthers are threatened with extinction here: On the one hand, it is not a separate species, because despite the sharp decline in the population, leopards are still the most common big cat species in Africa - with an estimated number of several hundred thousand Animals. And on the other hand, there were simply hardly any melanistic specimens here by nature.

In the meantime - triggered by the worldwide media coverage - it has also been refuted that it is the "first picture of a black panther in Africa in over 100 years". As reported by the Washington Post, a black panther was photographed in 2013 in the Laikipia Wilderness. And National Geographic even has evidence that a melanistic leopard was photographed in Kenya in 2007. The dark big cats are a bit more common than the reports now suggest. The photographer Will Burrard-Lucas also restricts on his blog that he does not want to give the impression that his pictures were the first since 1909: Rather, they are the first sharp photo trap pictures of a melanistic leopard.

Here are more of my black leopard photos. What a stunning animal! I have shared a few more on instagram as well https://t.co/JNNq5eJ035pic.twitter.com/cQAQPFQd6N

- Will Burrard-Lucas (@willbl) February 13, 2019

The misunderstanding goes back to a misinterpreted quote from a scientist at the San Diego Zoo: He spoke of the first scientific documentation of such a black panther in Africa since 1909, which was published in the "African Journal of Ecology". Unfortunately, something was also lost in the story about the important role played by the Samburu Letolua Ambose. The wildlife ecologist comes from the region and was the first scientist to investigate local reports of a black panther. His camera traps first documented the animal, and then he took Burrard-Lucas (who also thanks and appreciates him on his blog) to the right place so that he could install his devices here.