Mumbai: The rare and elusive black panther, ubiquitously known as Bagheera from Rudyard Kipling’s iconic ‘Jungle Book,’ may have been traced at Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra. After reports of sightings by local villagers, and a video that has since gone viral, the state forest department has set up camera traps to get photographic evidence of the feline.
“The black panther was said to have been sighted at Kondivare village in Sangameshwar taluka. After getting the video, we verified the location, and it was found to be the same as that in the recording. However, our team could not see the animal. Hence, we have set up cameras traps in the area to get evidence,” said Priyanka Lagad, Range Forest Officer (RFO), Ratnagiri.
Lagad said the forest department team would change the location of the cameras to cover an additional area. The department has installed a grid of three pairs of camera traps, she added.
V Clement Ben, Chief Conservator of Forests (Kolhapur territorial circle), too confirmed the developments.
Field-level forest staff admit that the hilly, undulated rains and heavy rains made monitoring tough.
Black leopards or black panthers are the melanistic variants of leopards and hence, belong to the same species. Unlike leopards, which have spotted markings, these black leopards have black pigmentation due to a recessive gene. As Lagad explains, the difference between a leopard and a black leopard is the same as the difference or rather the lack of it, between a black house cat and white one.
However, while leopards are elusive animals, which are sighted rarely, the sightings of black panthers are rarer due to their lower numbers.
Ben said that the Amboli and Tillari areas in neighboring Sindhudurg district had also reported sightings of black panthers. Ramakant Bhawar, Deputy Conservator of Forests (DCF), said forest officials had rescued a black panther which had fallen into a well at Rajapur in Ratnagiri district in 2015.
Black leopards have also been sighted at the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve in Chandrapur (March 2019), Goa and Kabini in Karnataka.
The state government has already notified a conservation reserve at Tillari in Sindhudurg district. This conservation reserve, which will cover a 29.53 sq km (2,953.377 hectare) tract of evergreen forests.