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Beautiful, fierce, aggressive, and one of the world's most feared animals

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Panther, whether a black panther (result of melanism) or white (result of albinism), is a variant of leopard (Africa, Asia), cougar (North America), or jaguar (South America, Central America). In the black panther, the fur color is actually a mixture of blue, black, grey, and purple. The definitive markings of the wild cat are still there but are very faint in comparison to the dark fur.

On average, panthers in the wild can live about 12-15 years, but can live up to 20 years when in captivity. Able to adjust to harsh climates, cold or hot, its habitat ranges from rain forest to desert lands.

Variant forms of a gene

"Allele" refers to variant forms of a gene, dominant or recessive. Melanism in the black jaguar is conferred by a dominant allele and in the black leopard by a recessive allele. Existence of any black or white North American cougars has not been authenticated, but due to their wide population range, the reality of their existence increases.

The cougar can be found from Canada throughout and toward the Andes Mountains of South America, making it the mammal with the fullest range of any mammal, besides humans, in the Western Hemisphere. The range would be even greater if not for humans who have driven the cougar deeper into the wilderness with the increasing destruction of their habitat.

U.S. Endangered Species status: Three sub-species of cougars are considered endangered.

Black leopards are common in the equatorial rain forest of southeast Asia, the tropical rain forests on the mountains of Africa, and on the mountainous island of Java, Indonesia. They also camouflage themselves well in the dimly lit and densely forested areas found in southwestern China, Myanmar, Assam, Nepal, and other parts of southern India.

With short legs and long body, the leopard is the smallest of the big cats; but its survival assets are among the greatest. Of all cats, it is the most capable tree climber, and it is known for its strength and uncanny stealth prowess, having earned a nickname 'the ghost of the forest.'

It can run up to about 36 mph and can easily take down almost any type of prey, including giraffes and antelopes. They also eat dead animals, fish, birds, reptiles, rodents, and monkeys. The leopard hunts at night, and rests in trees or bushes during the day.

U.S. Endangered Species status: African leopards are threatened in South Africa and endangered for the rest of the African continent and in Asia. All leopards are listed as "Near Threatened" by the World Conservation Union.

The greatest hunter of them all is the jaguar. Found primarily in rain forests on American continents, it fears no enemy other than man.

It ranges from four to seven feet long with the adult male standing three feet high and weighing up to 300 pounds. Its forearms and shoulders are heavily muscled, and its back legs are longer than its front. An incredibly strong jaw, sandpaper-like tongue, and long retractable claws in the forepaws are all part of its hunting/killing weaponry. The loose skin of its belly gives protection from kicks it might receive from prey.

Jaguars prefer to live near rivers and swamps, and they are great swimmers ready to hunt aquatic creatures, even hard-shelled turtles and crocodiles. Because of their great strength and quick ambush, they have no problem taking down large mammals on dry land as well. They will eat almost any kind of animal.

U.S. Endangered Species status: The jaguar is listed as endangered. The World Conservation Union considers the jaguar to be "Near Threatened."

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