Happy Black Panther Day

There is are International Days for both Jaguars and Leopards and there’s a World Jaguar Day. Additionally, we have Black Cat Appreciation Day (August 17th) and National Black Cat Day (October 27th). BUT there is no day specifically attributed to the Black Panther. Until now.

In loving memory of Diego (my “Panther Boy”),
I am declaring this day of his birth (April 4th) as Black Panther Day.

Although the term “Black Panther” has been attributed to

A member of the Black Panther Party
A fictional superhero

in the world of felines, there is no such species as a “Black Panther”.

The term “black panther” is most frequently used to describe black-coated (melanistic) leopards (Panthera pardus) or jaguars (Panthera onca). The world ‘melanism’ is derived from a Greek word meaning black pigment. Here it refers to the increased development of dark-colored pigment melanin in the skin or hair.

The appearance of a black coat is attributed to the expression of recessive alleles in leopards and dominant alleles in jaguars.

allele
n. one of two or more alternative forms of a gene that arise by mutation and are found at the same place on a chromosome

On cats like the leopard and jaguar, spots on a melanistic animal’s coat will often still be visible depending on the incident light. (When sunlight hits Ramses just right you can see tabby stripes on his tail) The appearance of a black coat may also depend upon the animal’s life stage.

Melanistic leopards and jaguars are rare. Studies estimate only 11% are born with this coloration, and it’s possible to have both melanistic and non-melanistic cubs in the same litter.

Confirmed sightings are infrequent, and confirmed sightings of black leopards (especially in Africa) are very rare – with the most recently verified sighting taking place in Kenya in 2019. Before that, it had been over 100 years since one was seen and photographed in Africa.

In India, wildlife filmmaker and photographer Mithun H captured a photo of these two leopards near the Kabini Forest.

Famous black panthers include Bagheera (The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling, 1894) and Sir Purr, mascot of the Carolina Panthers’ football team.

On a more personal note, the Black Panther holds special meaning for me. It is my Totem Animal – also called Spirit Animal, Power Animal, and Familiar.

When I was a Sophomore we lived in the foothills of East San José. Our house sat at the bottom of a hill and on sunny days I’d kick-back on the hillside, enjoying the panoramic view of the valley below. One day I was tramping through the browned grasses looking for a place to sit, when suddenly a black shape appeared in front of me. It was a large black cat. It was a black panther. (Afterward my Dad insisted I’d seen a dog, but I know the difference between the two. Not only are their body compositions different, but the way a cat MOVES is uniquely cat-like. Smooth and sensuous.) I felt no fear. I gazed at the cat. The cat gazed at me. Just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished into the hillside. That night I dreamed of BEING a black panther on the hunt. This dream repeated itself several nights after that.

The Black Panther has been connected to me ever since…

I’ve written a more in-depth article on Spirit Animals here.

What’s the difference between a leopard and a jaguar?

LEOPARD

~ Native to Africa and Asia.
~ Slender bodied with long tails
~ Small, angular heads featuring sharp cheekbones and clearly defined lines
~ Smallest of the “big cats”, weighing in around 175 pounds

JAGUAR

~ Found in Central and South America
~ Stocky, compact, and muscular body with barrel-like abdomen and relatively short tail
~ Large, broadly-rounded head with smaller ears and wide jaw
~ Weighs up to 250 pounds

The jaguar’s huge jaw muscles and teeth give it the strongest bite force of any mammal! (Take that, stupid pit bulls!)

References
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Wild Cat Sanctuary
Big Cat Rescue

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