“Strawberry” Leopard Discovered
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, whose group collaborates with National Geographic’s Big Cats Initiative. (The Society owns National Geographic News.) Hunter added, “it’s surprising that [a photo of the leopard] didn’t come out sooner, because he’s relatively used to vehicles.”
Photo © Deon De Villiers