Black leopard picture – where, what and how

People search for a ‘black leopard picture’. Here are some good ones. Leopards can often have the appearance of being jet black but they are not. Sometimes a black leopard is very dark with a black or dark grey pattern but not completely black. They have ghost markings or the spots can be quite visible.

Leopard versus jaguar

The black leopard is also called the black panther but then so is the black jaguar and puma. The word ‘panther’ is used generically to mean a large wild cat of unspecified species. It usually applies to black (melanistic) wild cats but can also be used to describe the cougar (puma). To confuse things further, the leopard and the jaguar really look quite similar especially when they are black. Therefore, you will see, on the internet, at least the occasional black jaguar being described as a black leopard. The leopard has relatively short legs and like the jaguar is stocky looking. The jaguar is generally slightly larger. The leopard is one of the big cats; a cat that can roar.

Black leopard
Black leopard. Image by Michael Drummond from Pixabay
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Black spotted leopard

Sometimes black leopards can have quite clear spots as shown in this incredibly rare black leopard photographed by 24-year-old photographer Anurag Gawande in Tadoba National Park in India. You can see that there is a variation in the visibility of the spots within the range of cats described as black leopards.

Rare spotted black leopard
Rare spotted black leopard. Photo: Anurag Gawande.

The cat was hunting deer the photographer said. He described the sighting as “like finding a needle in a haystack”.

He said:

‘Its coat was shining and even though the whole encounter lasted for about one minute, this leopard has given me the most iconic moment of my life.’

It took him two years to capture the images.

Word: ‘panther’

Dr. Desmond Morris in his book Cat World states that because the word “panther” can mean different species of large wild cat the term has largely been abandoned. I am not sure that I agree with him because we still see it lot on the internet. Black leopards are also called ‘melanistic leopards’. They are rarely seen in Africa but are not uncommon in southern India. They occur frequently in Java and Malaysia where about half the leopards are black (as at 2002).

Seen in Africa

In Africa black leopards have been observed in the Aberdare Mountains of Kenya. This is also where you see melanistic servals. Black leopards can be seen also in the foothills of the Ruwenzoris, the Ethiopian Highlands, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Republic of South Africa.

RELATED: Are leopards, jaguars and panthers the same?

That leopard picture but this might be a jaguar
Black leopard picture but this might be a jaguar! Credit as per the photograph.
Black panther on roof in France
Black panther on roof in France. Photo: Sapeurs-pompiers du Nord

Even leopards that seem completely black have an extremely faint pattern. In fact, black leopards have a range of “blackness” and, as is the case for other melanistic animals, are not always what appears to be jet black.

Black jaguar
Black jaguar showing the close similarity. Credit as per the image.

This picture above is of a captive black jaguar (it has larger rosettes – hollow spots – than the leopard). This is a cat that looks like a leopard even when it is not black!. The picture makes the point very clearly. You can see the faint black pattern.

Black leopard picture
Black leopard picture in public domain.


The black leopard is the same in character as a conventionally coloured leopard as it is just the coat colour that has changed due to the genetic make up of the cat. But can a cat’s coat change its character? Some people think it can. And that does seem a possibility. Black makes it less visible at dusk, dawn and at night which might alter its hunting technique, for example.

Black leopard picture
Black leopard picture. Credit as per the image.

Melanism- genetics

The word ‘melanism’ comes from the Greek meaning “dark-coloured”. It describes the substantially increased amount of dark pigmentation called melanin (which can be found in fur, skin, feathers and eyes etc.) in an organism and in this case, it is the individual hairs that have an increased level of dark pigmentation in them, which masks the usual leopard pattern. It is caused by a genetic mutation. Being black may aid survival and accordingly, over time, the number of animals in a species where it occurs may increase. This is called natural selection under Darwinian principles. It may well be that in say 10,000 years that all leopards are black in a region if it aids survival and if there are any leopards left in the wild at all at that time.

In the cat world melanism occurs more frequently, it seems, in both the leopard and jaguar and the term “black panther” usually refers to either of these cats. Melanism should occur more frequently in the jaguar as it is thought that the mutated gene is dominant in the jaguar, whereas for the leopard it is a recessive gene that produces the melanistic cat (src: I don’t, however, know of any reports on this subject but if half the leopards in Java are black it may be that a dominant gene is at work. This may, though, be incorrect. The Sunquists (Wild Cats Of The World) simply state that melanism is caused by an “autosomal recessive gene” without specifying species. “Autosomal means not sex related.

Information from zoos tells us that black and spotted cubs can be born in the same litter. Melanistic females tend to have smaller letters than spotted females.

An example of a wild cat hybrid that is melanistic can be seen here: Black Chausie – there is also a melanistic Jungle cat on this page)


The occurrence of black leopards varies according to the location and therefore habitat:

LocationLevel of occurrence of black leopards
IndiaNot uncommon
Java and MalaysiaEstimated half of the leopards are black. Although surprisingly I couldn’t find a black leopard picture from this region.

Black leopard picture
Black leopard picture. Credit for the photograph as per the photograph.

Fur texture

The texture and length of fur of the leopard varies from region to region. In Africa it can be short and course while in northern India, for example, it can be soft, longer and thicker. The undersides are always covered by soft fur, however. We all know that from our domestic cats as it applies to all cats.

This page has been refreshed as at December 30, 2021 and republished on that date.

Black leopard picture – Photos: small thumbnails: Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic. The large pictures are stills from videos where the images are judged to be in the public domain except for the one above, which was purchased.

There are some more articles about the leopard below which might interest you (below the adeverts!):

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