Isn’t this one the most beautiful animals in the whole world? Black leopards live in in dense forests in Southern India, South west China, Burma and Assam. These animals are relatively common in Java, so common in fact that in some areas are more melanistic leopards than spotted ones.
In Malaysia, the local people were unable to recognize a spotted leopard and they only known about the melanistic form. Melanism is the opposite of albinism. In melanism is present development of dark-colored pigment in the skin.
The word ‘melanism’ comes from a Greek word that means black pigment. Pseudo-melanism, or „abundism”, is another variant of pigmentation, characterized by enlarged stripes and dark spots, which cover a large part of the animal’s body, making it appear melanistic. Scientists say that melanism is animal’s reaction to survive, as dark individuals become fitter to survive and reproduce in their surroundings because they are better camouflaged.
Although these leopards are less common in Africa, they have been seen in Ethiopia, the forests of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. Being melanistic animal in areas like these is thought to be advantageous, because light levels are lower so it easier for them to blend in. This may explain why melanistic leopards are more common in these areas.
However, there are other theories about why melanistic leopards are common in some areas, theories more complex than camouflage. These theories are particular pertinent to the Malaysian leopards, where black fur is the normal. Being able to hide is the most important thing to a leopard’s survival. But so are other things, like an ability to fight off disease. Scientists have tried to find a link between the color of fur and the effectiveness of the immune system.So it may be that during an outbreak of disease in the past, their black fur was a response to disease. Or it may be that the easier camouflage theory is right. We don’t know for sure.
The only thing we really know for sure is that the first leopards came in Malaysia before about 150,000 years ago, just like the original African cats. Then over time their black fur will have developed and eventually become more common. But the real truth behind the melanistic leopards is as mysterious as themselves.