A black panther was spotted in Karnataka’s Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve on Monday, reported IANS. “An FRO [forest range officer] in NTR has sighted a black panther on Monday,” Deputy Conservator of Forests D Mahesh Kumar told IANS. He shared two photographs of the big cat.

This came after two photographs of a black panther went viral on social media. The pictures have got more than two lakh “likes” and were retweeted 54,000 times.

However, Kumar could not confirm if the animal in the widely-circulated photographs is the same as the one spotted on Monday.

In one of the two photographs, the panther is seen on a large moss-laden tree branch, looking backwards. In the other shot, the panther is looking back at the lens of the camera. Wildlife photographer Shaaz Jung has claimed to have shot the two pictures of the black panther in the Kabini forest.

Kumar said he cannot confirm if Jung is the one who took the photographs that went viral, but said that he was regular visitor to the tiger reserve. Kabini forest in Karnataka is a part of the Nagarhole National Park.

Kumar also clarified that photographers were not allowed inside the forest and disembarking from a safari vehicle was considered an offence. “We don’t allow photographers just like that into the park, he said. “Any visitor who comes for a safari will be allowed inside the park in the safari route. So it is by chance they sight an animal. Anybody can sight any animal on any given day.”

However, Kumar as well as the deputy conservator of forests said that a black panther is nothing but a leopard with excessive melanin on its coat. “It gets specialty only because of the people who follow it and give publicity to that animal,” said the deputy conservator. “They have some kind of special value attached to it. Otherwise, it is just like any other animal, only thing is it is melanistic.”

Kumar said there were about six black panthers in Karnataka forests and one in Nagarhole. He added that it was rare to spot the big cat but not impossible.

Nagarhole National Park and Tiger Reserve stretches between Kodagu and Mysuru districts. It used to be an exclusive hunting reserve during the rule of the Wodeyar dynasty. In 1955, it was converted into a wildlife sanctuary and upgraded to a national park in 1988. In 1999, it was declared a tiger reserve and was brought into the fold of Project Tiger.

Some of the animals in the reserve are tigers, elephants, bisons, sambar, barking deer, sloth bears, wild boars. It is also home to a variety of birds.

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