Are black panthers dangerous to humans?

Poggi and Dasha
Poggi and Dasha. Photo: Facebook.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Background

“Black panthers” normally refers to melanistic leopards. These are leopards that are born black (dark charcoal) because of a genetic mutation. They are called melanistic leopards. I’m referring to the common leopard. Although the term “black panther” can also refer to other big cats black pumas or jaguars. The black jaguar is frequently referred to as a black panther, incidentally. In this instance I will interpret ‘black panther’ to mean leopard.

Wild leopards

You will see black panthers in captivity and in the wild. In the wild, leopards come into contact and conflict with people in many different ways partly because there are more people around which provides more opportunity for conflict. They occasionally kill people but it is rare. Leopards that habitually kill people are even rarer. These are man-eating leopards and they are feared more than man-eating tigers because they slink into homes unlike tigers to claim their victims inside their own homes. Sometimes men are injured because the leopard has wandered into a town and the men want to demonstrate their machismo in capturing the cat singlehandedly. Many years ago, Jim Corbett the well-known naturalist and hunter, killed a man-eating leopard which had killed 125 people. A few years later he was asked to kill the Panar leopard which had been credited with killing 400 people. They say that a man-eating leopard develops a taste for human flesh. Nearly always they are male leopards. Only 9 out of 152 man-eating leopards have been females.

To answer the question, “are black panthers dangerous to humans?”, the answer has to be, yes, but in the context of the huge number of opportunities for leopards to attack people it is a slight danger.

Captive leopards

I have to refer to a widely published article today concerning a man who was severely mauled by a black panther in a Florida zoo setting (Davie, Florida). Dwight Turner, 50, appears to have been told by the owner, Michael Poggi (54), that it was safe for him to pet his black panther, Dasha. Mr Poggi is an animal dealer. Turner paid Poggi $150 for the pleasure of sitting next to the black panther in a cage. Almost as soon as he entered Dasha attacked him. He was severely injured but survived. His scalp was badly damaged as was an ear. Fortunately, leopards are not as big as people think they are so although they are dangerous it is far less likely that they will kill you compared to a tiger or lion.

Turner and Poggi in the enclosure
Turner and Poggi in the enclosure before the attack. Photo: Local 10 News.


Nonetheless Turner’s “full contact experience” as promised went terribly wrong, which some experts would say was predictable. For example, Imogene Cancellare, a National Geographic Explorer and conservation biologist who is studying snow leopards says that, “there is no scenario in which entering a [space] with a big cat is going to be 100% safe, even if it’s been hand-raised”.

They are still genetically wild and there is still the slight possibility, no matter how domesticated they are, that their wild nature will come to the fore completely instinctively and overcome all the domestication that has gone before. No doubt Mr Poggi firmly believed that Dasha was fully domesticated and safe but he made a terrible misjudgement which is going to cost him very dearly.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has charge Poggi with allowing a member of the public to come into contact with a full-grown black leopard. Under the law in Florida a person can only have contact with a big cat weighing less than 25 pounds (a cub or kitten). Poggi will appear in court on December 2nd and he faces the possibility of 18 months in jail and a $1,500 fine. Federal regulations also state that barriers must exist between the public and cat if the cat is 12-weeks-of-age or older.

Turner is suing Poggi for compensation. Poggi let his insurance lapse so if he loses he will have to pay out of his own pocket. In the meantime Poggi has had several operations and spent a week in hospital.

Misconceptions

It is said that the recent Netflix documentary about Joe Exotic (and other big cat owners) and Carole Baskin the co-founder of Big Cat Rescue has created an atmosphere where some people might believe that it is safe to treat big cats as pets. They’ve seen people like Joe Exotic interacting with lions and tigers as if they are big cuddly domestic cats and they start to believe it’s possible. It isn’t really because as Imogene stated that little spark of predatory, wild big cat inside them is never extinguished and you don’t know when it’s going to come out, catch alight and bite you.

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