Melanistic Panther, Mudumalai Tiger Reserve

Phillip Ross
Phillip Ross

Chosen as 'Picture of the Week'

The jungle is full of surprises, and the most exciting sightings happen when one least expects them. Encounters like this are a reminder that our magnificent wildlife can only survive if we give them the space they require.

One cannot imagine the adrenalin rush that explodes through your body when you lock eyes with a Black Panther. It has been a long-held dream of mine to sight and photograph one of these gorgeous melanistic cats. We were driving through the Mudumalai Tiger Reserve at the base of the Nilgiris in South India earlier this year, with our eyes peeled in the hope of chancing upon one of the park’s elusive felines — Tiger or Leopard.

Dusk was approaching rapidly, when suddenly, a Sambar (Cervus unicolor) bellowed an alarm call ahead. We continued slowly towards the source of the sound. We knew that there had to be a big cat in the area; however we hadn’t the slightest clue it would be a melanistic leopard! With great excitement we rounded the next bend, just as something black was attempting to slink across the road. It took us a good 2 or 3 seconds to confirm and verbally express the identity of the animal in unison – BLACK PANTHER! Oh My God, Was I dreaming? I started shaking with excitement. It was hard to believe my eyes.The leopard moved off the road as expected, but luckily for us, she moved to an opening in the thicket, turned and began staring back with her sparkling yellow eyes.

Melanistic leopards, known to most people as black panthers, are extremely rare. The leopard’s melanism is inherited as a mongenic recessive trait and its black color is because of a recessive gene. See other posts on melanistic leopards on CI.

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