Rare Black Panther
By Mark McConville
A BRITISH photographer has captured a rare black panther on camera in what could be the first natural encounter with this kind of animal in the wild.
The stunning pictures show the sleek black cat peeking out curiously from the cover of the trees before casually strolling by in the open.
Other shots show the melanistic or black jaguar, known as a panther, baring its teeth towards the photographer as it retreats into the jungle.
The incredible images were taken in Yasuni National Park, Ecuador by British conservation photographer Pete Oxford (58) from Torquay, Devon.
“On this occasion, as we slowly rounded a bend in the sinusoidal Tiputini River, a movement caught my eye on the right,” he said.
“A sleek, long, black animal lay on a tiny sand bank – a tayra I thought. At 130-feet distance the half-concealed ‘tayra’ stood up and it was a black panther.
“The animal was everything it was supposed to be, magnificent, evocative, velvety and majestic. Its stare burned, through yellow eyes, as it watched us and began walking slowly away. In less than thirty seconds, it was gone.
“We scanned forward as we bushwhacked the canoe under the dense foliage I glanced back to José pleading with my eyes for him to have seen where it had gone.
“As I did so incredibly I saw the cat sitting, sphinx-like, on the edge of the bank no more than 7 meters from our canoe.”
That wasn’t the end of this amazing encounter as the panther lay down for a nap, clearly not regarding Pete or José as a threat.
“For a full forty minutes, we watched nothing more than the occasional ear twitch or tail flick and finally once again it raised its head to look at us,” said Pete.
“This time he’s going to dissolve back into the forest, I thought, but instead it miraculously stood up and walked straight towards us where it sat down twenty-five feet away, behind some vegetation and began grooming.
“It was equivalent to winning the jackpot of wildlife photography and still José and I had not said a word to each other as we sat dumbstruck.”
The rarity of the sighting was put into perspective by Pete who explained how a camera-trapping program in the area had only ever caught a partial sighting of a black panther.
“In an ongoing, long-term, camera-trapping program run by the TBS they have more than two-hundred images of “normal” jaguars and only ever one image of part of a black panther,” said Pete.
“None of my professional photographer colleagues, jungle guides or jungle native friends had ever seen one, indeed it was an iconic moment – a once-in-many-people’s-lifetimes-experience.
“After one hour and twenty minutes in each other’s presence the panther stretched, yawned a final time and melted, in a few steps, into the darkness of the understory as it silently and nonchalantly walked away.
“This was probably the first time that a black panther had ever been photographed in the wild without baiting or using a camera trap and I knew I would never see another one again.
“It was an uplifting experience and one that gave me faith that the Yasuni is still a vibrant ecosystem and one that, if protected, will never fail to inspire a sense of mystery and awe.”