A melanistic leopard, commonly known a black panther, was recently photographed in the wild in the Nilgiris.
The image, which was captured by an amateur photographer Das Chandrasekar shows the melanistic leopard along with its more commonly coloured counterpart with its bright orange coat with black rosettes, near a tea estate in the Nilgiris forest division.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Das Chandrasekar said that he had been trying to photograph a melanistic leopard for over three years. “There had been a number of sightings of black panthers in the area where I eventually managed to take the picture, so I kept persisting with trying to track down at least one animal,” said Mr. Chandrasekar, adding that the black panther in the picture is a female, while the animal with the normal coloration pattern was a male. “The two animals were in courtship, so I quickly took the picture without disturbing them and left the area,” said Mr. Chandrasekar, who has recorded over 20 different individual leopards in and around Kotagiri over the last few years.
Conservationists said that sightings of melanistic leopards were not uncommon in the Nilgiris, especially in Kotagiri and parts of the Sigur plateau.
N. Mohanraj, a conservationist based in the Nilgiris, said that a single litter of an adult leopard could contain both melanistic and non-melanistic, “normal,” coloured cubs. “The coloration is because of a gene mutation. So black panthers as they are commonly called, are not a separate species,” said Mr. Mohanraj, adding that melanistic leopards are not an uncommon sight in and around Kotagiri.
“Usually, they hide out in caves and are easily spotted when they venture out, especially during the day time,” said Mr. Mohanraj.
Forest Department officials from the Nilgiris division said that they are aware of the presence of melanistic leopards in pockets of the Nilgiris forest division, and that regular patrols are undertaken around these forest patches to ensure that the animals are protected. “Other hazards, like traps laid to ensnare small game also pose a threat to carnivores, and the Forest Department regularly destroys these traps whenever they are found,” an official from the Forest Department said.