Black panthers are a symbol of courage, strength and personal leadership, and are revered by many throughout the world.
Because of their rarity, unbridled strength and power, it’s no surprise that these majestic, solitary creatures have woven their way into African mythology.
What Exactly is a Black Panther?
First off, it’s important to note that black panthers are not their own species. Those found in Africa are actually leopards (Panthera pardus), which have a genetic trait called melanism – meaning the animals have excess black pigment.
The typical markings of a leopard are still there, so if the light hits a black panther just right, you can still see its spots.
Like all leopards, black panthers are solitary, nocturnal carnivores.
Their hunting prowess is legendary. With their large skulls and powerful jaw muscles black panthers can take on animals much larger than themselves. Pound for pound, they are the strongest of the big cats.
Here are some more remarkable facts about these amazing animals:
- Black panthers are able to hunt and kill animals outweighing them by more than 600 kilograms (1,350 pounds), according to Big Cat Rescue
- They can even climb trees while carrying a massive carcass to keep it safe from lions and hyenas
- Like most big cats, they’re fast and can run at speeds approaching 58 km/hr (36mph)
- They have over 500 voluntary muscles
- They’re extremely powerful swimmers
- They can leap 6 meters (20 ft.) horizontally and 3 meters (9.8 ft) vertically
Where Can You Find the Elusive Black Panther?
Leopards are aloof and often come out only at night, so it’s difficult to know how many there are. What is known is that only a small percentage of African leopards are black panthers, which just adds to their allure.
Black panthers are found in areas with dense vegetation, where light levels are lower. They aren’t that common in tropical parts of Africa, but have been found in Ethiopia, the forest of Mount Kenya, the Aberdares and a single sighting was recorded in the equatorial forest of Cameroon.
These impressive animals are even rare in captivity. In 2008, there were only 15 black leopards in captivity around the world.
Black Panthers in Mythology and as a Potent Symbol
Black panthers have long held a certain mystique throughout the world. The ancient Romans admired the animals, and even had a few imported from Africa for public displays and games.
Many cultures have been fascinated by the symbolism of black panthers. They’ve been thought to symbolize:
- The feminine, the dark mother, the dark of the moon
- Darkness, death and rebirth from it
- The protector of the universe
Black panthers have played an important role in African mythology, as well. Early Egyptians would sacrifice panthers to various gods and Egyptian priests wore the skin of the panther.
In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Pepi the king must pass through the ceiling of heaven by wearing a black panther skin draped across his shoulders. This signified that he had given up his need for the earthly realm and was ready to go on to heaven.
The Legend Continues
Even today black panthers continue to be a potent symbol of strength. You can find them represented in political parties, coats of arms, professional sports teams, military regiments’ uniforms, flags and more.
It’s no surprise, that black panthers have secured their role in mythology and as an important symbol. After all, it’s rare that agility, power, grace and beauty are all rolled up into one wondrous animal.
You might also enjoy our blog article Serval Cats: Africa's Lesser Known Big Cat