A leopard can’t change its spots, but apparently it can change its color.
African leopards normally have tawny coats with black spots. But a male leopard with a strawberry-colored coat has been spotted in South Africa’s Madikwe Game Reserve, conservationists announced this week.
Tourists in the reserve had occasionally seen the unusual animal. But it wasn’t until recently that photographer and safari guide Deon De Villiers sent a photograph to experts at Panthera, a U.S.-based wild cat-conservation group, to ask them about the leopard’s odd coloration.
Panthera President Luke Hunter suspects the pale leopard has erythrism, a little-understood genetic condition that’s thought to cause either an overproduction of red pigments or an underproduction of dark pigments.
“It’s really rare—I don’t know of another credible example in leopards,” said Hunter
Erythrism is very unusual in carnivores.
Tip: @qaphsiel (Cary) on Twitter
This is pretty neat. People reported seeing the anomalous animal and the picture was finally snapped to provide us all with a good look. I’m a bit concerned that the unusual coloration will make this cat more desirable to poaching. Many anomalous-characteristic animals have been reported in the cryptozoology literature – colored tigers, melanistic versions, odd spot or body features. There is a range that occurs and on the fringes of that spectrum, we can see some rather unique individuals.