The black Panther as such does not really exists. The name is taken from the Latin denomination designating different big cats: Panthera Leo (Lion), Panthera Onca (Jaguar), Panthera Pardus (Leopard) and Panthera Tigris (Tiger). Cougars and Cheetah’s are subspecies of one of the above.
Jaguar (Panthera onca)
The jaguar is often confused with the leopard. Both cats have a similar brown-yellow coat covered with dark circular patterns. The jaguar however has spots within the circles, is build more rugged and muscular, has a bigger head, stocky front legs and a short tail.
Identification in the wild however poses no problem because the cats live on different continents. The Jaguar is the only member of the Panthera family living in Central and South America and is the largest cat on the continent. The jaguar used to roam from the south of the United States to the southern tip of South America. Today however they only survive in the north and center of South America, with the highest concentration in the Amazon basin.
The jaguar has no rivals in the Amazon forest except mankind. No other predator stands a chance against this powerful cat. Compared with other cats of similar size the jaguar has extremely strong jaws and often kills its prey with one quick bite through the skull. Jaguars can kill small animals like dogs with one blow of a front paw. Prey animals usually show no sign of external trauma but die as a result of a punctured skull.
Whenever possible the habitat of jaguars is close to water. It is an expert fisherman and often catches water turtles or even large caiman which he drags out of the water and into the dense undergrowth to hide. The jaguar is an excellent climber. Not as good as the leopard but good enough to hunt for monkeys on the lower branches of the enormous trees in the rain forest.
The jaguar is still threatened by man. During the peak of its decline in the 60ties and 70ties, 18000 jaguars were killed yearly to satisfy the fur industry.
Due to the decline in demand the jaguar has been given another chance.
Sadly enough massive deforestation is now shrinking its habitat. Today, only an estimated 15000 jaguars survive in the wild.
What is a 'Black Panther'?
The term ‘Black Panther’ is often used describing any big black cat. However no separate species with this name exists.
Seeing a picture of a ‘Black Panther’ it will very likely be a leopard or a jaguar with a condition called melanism.
The term melanism is derived from the word ‘melanin’, a dark hair or skin pigment present in all mammals including humans. Lack of this substance causes albinism, too much of this substance causes felines to have a very dark or even black fur. In case of the black panthers, you can usually still see the characteristic circular markings given the right ambient light.
Melanism is a genetic condition and as such heritable but not always transferred to the next generation. It is quite common to see mixed litters counting one or two black kittens among normal colored siblings.
Melanism also appears in other felines. It is known that black leopards are abundant in the dense tropical forests of Southeast Asia. In this dark environment on the forest floor a dark color provides a better camouflage. It is possible that dark cats are more successful hunting, providing better for their kittens than normal colored leopards. This way the gene has more chances to spread.
The black panther evokes an image of strength, cunning and tenacity. These characteristics made the black panther the mascot of the 27th ‘Black Panther’ Squadron.