Saturday, July 3, 2021

What wild cats are black?

There are no wild cats whose normal coat is black. But please read on. The question in the title is asking if there are any wild cats who are by default black. I will rephrase that: are there any wild cat species whose normal and original coat is black. The answer to that question is NO. 

But there are quite a few wild cat species whose normal coat is a typical brown spotted or striped coat but because of a genetic mutation it turns almost black, a sort of dark charcoal with ghost spots and other markings. These cats are called melanistic cats. The condition caused by the genetic mutation is called melanism. 

Black bobcat trapped in Canada
Black bobcat trapped in Canada. Photo: in public domain.

And there are quite a few cats, as mentioned, that are normally not black but sometimes they are. From the top of my head (not a comprehensive list), I can think of several such as the serval, Geoffroy's cat, the jaguar, the bobcat, the leopard, the mountain lion a.k.a. the puma, and even the tiger, as there are reports, I guess from long ago, of black tigers but you won't see them nowadays and nobody nowadays has seen one. I can remember seeing a photograph a tiger with very dark stripes so perhaps I'm wrong but this is not a genuine black tiger. 


Mel and Fiona Sunquist in their book Wild Cats of the World write: "Black melanistic forms occur in many members of the cat family but while there are accounts of black tigers, no skins or museum specimens exist. Pocock lists three records of black tigers, all of which are reported from the same general area of Myanmar, north-eastern India, and Bangladesh within 600 km of each other". I have taken the liberty of quoting verbatim for complete accuracy.


Below are a couple of photographs of black wild cats. The first is one of an individual serval whose normal colour is dark black spot against a yellowish background and in the photograph, it is black because it is melanistic. The one below it is of a black leopard a.k.a. black panther. There are others as mentioned and these photographs are here just to illustrate the page.

Black serval. Photo: George Benjamin.
Black serval. Photo: George Benjamin.

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

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