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Have You Seen The Black Panther?

black panther laying on branch
(Image: Getty Images)

For the last few months Marvel’s Black Panther has been getting a lot of Oscar buzz. Meanwhile in Kenya a real life black panther has been making some big news headlines as well. How interesting that a real life black panther has been making news in the land that inspired the story of Wakanda! What a timely opportunity to ask today’s big question: Have you seen the black panther? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginiato find out.

Was Black Panther the best picture of the year? That depends on who you ask. If you’re talking about the Oscars and all things Hollywood, then no, it did not win the prestigious award, but last year, a team of biologists and environmental photographers in Kenya published a photo that very well could be the best picture of the year and it’s of a real, rare, and ridiculously beautiful black panther!

So, what exactly is a Black Panther? For starters, it’s not actually all black, it just has highly melanistic or very dark fur, but you can still see its patterns when the light hits them just right. The term “black panther” is used for dark furred big cats, most commonly leopards in Africa and Asia. In the Americas the Black Panther is commonly associated with dark furred jaguars.

This dark coloration only happens about 5% of the time, thus making them a much more rare sight when compared to other big cats. In fact, the last time we had documented proof of a black panther in Africa was a 100 years ago! Meanwhile over here in the Americas there are no known black panthers in the wild, though we have some in captivity. Luckily these biologists and photographers had been hearing recent accounts from local Kenyan villagers about black panther sightings, a perfect reason to for a field visit to deploy camera traps!

The result is a beautiful photo of a dark Kenyan landscape with two glowing eyes and a faintly visible body caught mid stride in crystal clear clarity! These animals are so rare that scientists have yet to see if its the same mutation that causes the dark colors across the various sightings over the globe. As word on this begins to spread around the world conservationists are urging regions to take a more active role in protecting our planet’s wildlife. Leopards are listed as vulnerable and jaguars are listed as near threatened species. Human development continues to grow into the wild parts of our planet and along with it brings much disruption to the many species who live in those areas. Environmentalist groups will now have yet another visual to use while drawing support for their conservation efforts.

Regardless, for now there’s very recent proofof this seldom seen but incredibly beautiful natural phenomenon and despite what the Oscars have to say, for those involved in this research there’s no competition for their black panther being the best picture of the year.

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