Black Leopard Sightings in Africa are Significant in More Ways Than One

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Black Leopard Sightings in Africa are Significant in More Ways Than One

A photograph of a young female black leopard, spotted at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya.

A photograph of a young female black leopard, spotted at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya.

Photo CreditWill Burrad-Lucas/ Camtramptions

A photograph of a young female black leopard, spotted at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya.

Photo CreditWill Burrad-Lucas/ Camtramptions

Photo CreditWill Burrad-Lucas/ Camtramptions

A photograph of a young female black leopard, spotted at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya.

Eleanor Murray, Staff Reporter

With the recent release and subsequent popularity of Marvel’s Black Panther, the main hero of the movies, who also goes by the name Black Panther, has become a well known superhero. But what about the animal that the character is named after?

Recently, black panthers have also been in the spotlight because of sightings of the rare animals in Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, as recorded by a team from the Institute for Conservation Research of the San Diego Zoo Global and the Loisaba Conservancy, according to The New York Times.

Black panthers themselves are not actually an individual species of cat, according to Big Cat Rescue. The dark color seen in ‘black panthers’ is caused by a genetic mutation in some species of big cats, like leopards and jaguars. The mutation produces excess melanin, which is the organic pigment that accounts for the color of hair, skin, and eyes in mammals.

The excess pigment in certain jaguars and leopards creates their characteristic dark color, however, these cats are not black. They are actually a dark shade of brown, but still retain the spots that normal jaguars and leopards have, although they are much harder to see.

The young female leopard spotted in Kenya is especially significant because leopards have been disappearing from the wild and are currently classified as, according to The New York Times, a vulnerable species. Black leopards only account for about 11% of the total leopard population.

There have been only a few sightings of black leopards in Africa in the last century, so observing one in the wild is exciting for the science community. It could be a coincidence, but it could also mean that the leopard population is growing.

Interestingly, according to New York Times, the site in Kenya where the black leopard was spotted is close to where Marvel has placed Wakanda, the country that the superhero Black Panther rules.

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