A black leopard is the same species as a normal-colored leopard with a high amount of pigment or melanistic coloration causing in the fur of the animal to be very dark or black. Melanism occurs because of a recessive gene mutation of the leopard. The melanistic trait is a result of heredity but is not necessarily passed directly from one generation to the next. A black leopard cub will be born with both parents carrying melanistic gene. A fair-colored leopard can carry the recessive melanistic gene. Quite often a black leopard cub is born along with fair-colored cubs. The black cub grows into a black leopard; the fair cubs grow into light-colored leopards. If both parents are black, the leopard cubs are always black.
Black leopards are most commonly seen in the dense and dimly lit tropical rainforests of South and Southeast Asia, where the dark coloration gives them better camouflage. Melanism is thought to be a favorable evolutionary mutation for leopards.
Zoologically speaking, the term panther is synonymous with leopard. Therefore, by strict definition, the term black panther refers only to the black leopard; although the name black panther is more commonly used for both the black leopard and black jaguar. For more information about black leopards, see the home page of Black Panther Animal.