A lucky tourist came face-to-face with one of the rarest animals on the planet on his first ever safari trip.
Abhishek Pangis, 23, was stunned to spot a ‘beautiful’ black leopard during a safari trip in India.
The engineering student was on a trip to Tadoba Reserve when he laid eyes on the big cat.
Mr Pangis said: “I went blank when I spotted it. I hadn’t seen anything so beautiful, I was completely stunned and came back to my senses after 10 minutes and started clicking pictures.”
“Usually people have seen it around for two-three minutes but I was very lucky as I could see it for 40 minutes.”
The amateur photographer was on the final leg of a two-day safari trip with his parents at the reserve in India’s when he chanced the extraordinary sighting.
Mr Pangis, from Pune, was visiting the reserve known for its tigers in the state of Maharashtra earlier this month.
His spectacular photographs show the enigmatic leopard, with a glossy coat and dark black spots, marking its territory in the wild.
“I witnessed it drinking water from a pond, marking its territory and stalking langurs and monkeys. It was a brilliant experience,” Mr Pangis said.
“We saw him in peak summer of June last month when it was 40-45 degree of extreme heat as there is a more chance of the wild cats coming out for water.
“At one point, this leopard, who should be four years old, even walked past our jeep. It was a surreal moment.”
Professional photographers often spend months and hundreds of thousands of pounds to snap the leopard.
“I knew there are black leopards but I was very lucky to have spotted it during my first safari trip,” the student said.
“There were 10-15 safari cars but they left when they did not see the leopard and just three-four safari jeeps stayed with us.
“None of them had a camera so when it came out in the open, it was just me who had the camera and could take its pictures.”
‘Black panther’ is actually not a distinct black cat- the term describes any of the genus panthera – which includes leopards in Asia and Africa, and jaguars in the Americas.
Leopards are born with the dark coats if their parents carry the recessive gene for the melanistic variation.
And Jaguars can be black if their parents carry the right dominant alleles.
That means while black leopards are not bred like domestic cats, their offspring can be varied much like pet felines’ litters often have a variety of coat hues and patterns.
But some appear blacker than others, and in some cases like the most recent sighting – the distinctive spots remain stunningly visible on the darker pigment.
The variation is thought to appear in around 11 per cent of leopards, but their colouring makes the cats difficult to spot in the wilderness.
Black Indian leopards, Javan leopards, African leopards, Indonchinese leopards and Sri Lankan leopards have all been recorded in the wild.