Last October, the occurence of Black Panthers in Sri Lanka was for the first time caught on video footage. The Wildlife Department had installed motion sensor cameras in remote dense forests. Sri Lankan authorities did not inform the public instantly but confirmed the existence only after a thorough investigation and recording more videos. There is now evidence of an entire family of Black Panthers, a male and a female with two cubs. Some shots are published on youtube, for example at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6aEyuQP9ew0 (with comments). The videos were shot in the montane forests of the sanctuary known as Peak Wilderness, which is the densely forested area around Adam's Peak.
However, some of the information given in Sri Lankan media is misleading. Black Panthers are neither a species nor a subspecies. They belong to the same subspecies as all other Sri Lankan leopards, namely Panthera pardus kotiya. The phenomenon of having a pure black sprite (instead of the more common dull yellow fur with black marks like other leopards) is known from many species, including many other species of cats, well-known in the case of pet cats: they can be black instead of striped. Similarly, Black Horses are not separate subspecies. (They only occur in some subspecies more frequently than in others.) This kind of mutation to a black fur is commonly called melanism. So be aware: The black colour is not a permanent characteristic of any specific bloodline. Rather, parents as well as cubs of Black Panthers can be yellow leopards. Even cubs of two black parents can be yellow. Furthermore, cubs of one and the same litter can be of different colours. To put it in other words: The next generation of leopards can change the colour, Black Panthers can be offspring of yellow leopards and the other way around.
Though Black Panthers seem to be purely black, they are in fact patterned. The darker marks of yellow leopards do not completely disappear in the case of Black Panthers. Rather, they can still be seen when very bright sunshine is illuminating the fur from the side. The reason is: The still existing rosettes and spots are only obscured by a much darker undercoat.
Already William Watt Addison Phillips in his "Manual of the Mammals of Ceylon" (Colombo 1935) reported that a Black Panther was shot by a hunter near Hambantota. Occasionally, Sri Lankan villagers reported to have spotted Black Panthers. However, the first photographic evidence is only from as late as 2009, when in Mawuldeniya (close to Deniyaya) in the southern foothills of the Sinharaha rain forest a female Black Panther was found dead in an illegal trap, afterwards taxidermied to be exhibited at the Giritale Wildlife Museum.
So, indeed, something's new and it's somewhat spectacular: It's for the first time now that living Black Panthers are scientifically recorded in Sri Lanka!
Black Panthers have been known from almost all other leopard subspecies occuring in Asia and Africa. They are most common on the Malay Peninsula, where Black Panthers form the bulk of the leopard population to the south of the Isthmus of Kra (maybe even the entire population), whereas spotted yellow leopards of the same subspecies (Panthera pardus delacouri) are common in other parts of mainland Southeast Asia and southern China. The percentage of Black Panthers is also comparatively high in forested montane regions of Africa. The general pattern of distribution is: Black Panthers occur more frequently in dense (and therefore dark!) tropical forests. Even yellow leopards in dense forests are usually more brownish than those in open grasslands, the latter "golden" ones in turn being slightly less pale than those in desert areas.
Nuwan Chinthaka Gajanayaka,