What Is a Black Leopard?

Christina Edwards
Christina Edwards
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Woman holding a book

As its name implies, a black leopard is a leopard that has black fur. These mysterious creatures are quite rare, but they can be found in some parts of Asia and Africa. Like regular leopards, black leopards can grow to be quite large. They are mostly active at night, and can typically be found wandering alone.

Regular leopards, known scientifically as Panther pardus, are usually quite light in color. They are typically yellow or gold, with lighter colored fur on their bellies. Several black spots cover these animals as well.

A black leopard, or melanistic leopard, on the other hand, appears to be completely covered in black fur. This occurs because of very high levels of melanin in the skin and fur. This phenomenon is often referred to as melanism, and it is the result of a recessive gene mutation. Two normal leopards carrying this recessive gene could produce a black leopard.

Most leopards can be found in the southern half of Africa and Southeast Asia. Normal leopards tend to live in grasslands and forests. Black leopards, however, are not typically found in open grasslands. Scientists theorize their dark coloring makes it hard for the animals to blend in with grassland surroundings.

A black leopard is more likely to be found lurking in the rainforests of Southeast Asia. The dense forest canopies make the rainforest floors very dim. These darker, shadowy habitats make it much easier for black leopards to blend into their surroundings.

Male leopards are typically a little larger than female leopards. An adult black leopard can grow to be about 9 feet (2.7 meters) long, from its head to the tip of its tail. It can also grow to be about 2.5 feet (0.8 meters) tall. Some larger leopards may weigh around 200 pounds (91 kilograms). The size of a black leopard, however, will usually depend on its habitat and the availability of food.

Like normal leopards, a black leopard will usually prey on slightly smaller animals. This can include mammals, like rabbits or deer, or even birds. Black leopards are also known for their jumping and climbing skills, and they have often been observed dragging fresh kills high into the branches of trees.

By nature, these animals are not social creatures. They typically prefer to roam their territories alone, unless they are looking to mate. Cubs will stay with their mothers for up to two years before going off on their own.

Human beings are one of the biggest threats to all leopards, and these big cats are considered endangered species. Their natural habitats are rapidly diminishing, due to human encroachment and industrialization. They are also hunted, not only for sport, but for their fur. Black leopard fur is especially valuable because it is unusual.

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Discussion Comments


@Grivusangel -- Nice to know the zoo was able to take in the black leopard. One thing I didn't know until I saw some photos was that, while black leopards are most definitely black, they are still patterned!

They still have spots and you can see the patterns in certain lights. The fur looks like patterned watered silk. It's very beautiful. And every cat has his or her own, distinct pattern. No two cats are alike.

They call him a black panther, but of course, Bagheera from Kipling's "Jungle Book" was a black leopard. He's one of my favorite characters from literature. I love Bagheera.


A local zoo used to have a black leopard. They rescued it from a circus or something. I don't remember. I remember the cat's keeper saying this particular animal was much more sociable than other leopards -- maybe because it had been around humans so much.

The keeper said this leopard actually seemed to enjoy some companionship, and always liked the enrichment items provided in its enclosure. There was a big story in the newspaper about the cat and the keeper. It was really interesting. I found out a lot I didn’t know about these wonderful animals and was glad the zoo was able to rescue this cat and give it a clean, healthy place to live out its life.

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