Exmoor Zoo is excited to announce that the beast is back as they now have a new beautiful black leopard at the zoo!

The lovely female leopard, named Bagheera after the panther in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, was born in Parc Des Felins, just outside Paris in France on 12th May last year and arrived in Exmoor around 6 weeks ago. Keepers have noticed she has the same fiery temperament as the zoo’s previous black leopards, Zoysa and Ebony and has been settling in nicely.

Black leopards have been in captivity since the Victorian era, when they were collected due to their unusual colour. The myth of an Exmoor beast dates back to the 1950s onwards, when people owned big cats as pets. Many escaped into the countryside or were set free when owners couldn’t cope with them any longer. Since 1976, the Dangerous Wild Animal Act has been in place, making it illegal to own a big cat without special licences, which also saw a rise in people setting their pets free. However, a trip to Exmoor Zoo will allow you to meet an Exmoor beast in a safe environment!

Still in her adolescence, Bagheera has already been interacting with zoo visitors from inside her house, where her eyes and teeth have been the first thing anyone notices as they pass! In France, she was raised by her parents, one of only two pairs of black leopards left in captivity in Europe, and came to Exmoor Zoo as part of an exchange, swapping places with a female caracel kitten, as part of the European breeding programme.

Collection manager at Exmoor Zoo, Danny Reynolds, said: “We would hope that Bagheera should live with us for the next fifteen years or more. If we can, we may try and find a normal coat coloured male companion from the Asiatic leopards in captivity. Leopards from Africa are slightly different being much larger and tend not to have the recessive genes for the black appearance.”

Black leopards are what scientists call melanistic, the leopard coat pattern is still there but the guard hairs in their coats become black. This is extremely rare in the wild and tends to occur in certain parts of the world where dense forest provides a good habitat where they can hide. In more open areas, the mutation would be too obvious.

Are you planning a trip to Exmoor Zoo this summer? Make sure to look out for Bagheera and see an Exmoor beast in the flesh!

                                               black leopard

Images from Richard Desmond.

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