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Black panther less rare than thought

Hindu, Delhi, 24th July 2014

 

The melanistic leopard — or the black panther iconised in popular imagination as as Kipling’s Bagheera — may not be as rare in India as originally thought, says a post on the National Geographic’s Explorer’s Journal by a researcher from Wildlife Conservation Society. The black leopard appeared in ten per cent of 2,500 camera trap images of leopards recorded by WCA last year from four wildlife reserves in the Western Ghats of Karnataka and Kerala, says Associate Conservation Scientist at WCS, Krithi Karanth, who reported this finding. “For instance, black leopards seem to be particularly common in the wetter ecosystems of Anshi-Dandeli tiger reserve.” Camera trap images were also collected from Bandipur National Park and Bhadra and Wynaad wildlife sanctuaries.

 

Documenting black panthers is a challenging task because the rosettes are only faintly visible against their black fur, making it virtually impossible to tell one individual from another. “In the case of other leopards, you can easily tell one from another by looking at their very distinctive spots. But melanistic variants are difficult to distinguish — and therefore to estimate in terms of numbers — because their spots are barely visible,” said Dr. Karanth. Yet their comparative rarity makes them endlessly fascinating to researchers. “It is hugely exciting to find that black panthers are well and thriving in the same areas that British explorers such as G.P. Sanderson, Thomas Fletcher and E.P. Stebbing reported them in the late 1800s and early 1900s,” she said. “It has always had a particular air of mystery.... like a living shadow, more elusive even than its perfectly camouflaged relatives,” Dr. Karanth writes in her post.