Can a leopard change its skin? According to the picture above, it can. The typical African leopard adorns yellow-brownish coats with black spots. But conservationists in South Africa's Madikwe Game Reserve have recently caught a glimpse of this strawberry-coloured leopard!
This isn’t the first time we’ve heard about an animal’s skin changing colour, but it’s the first time anyone has seen a leopard do it. There’s no way to tell if the leopard was born like this or if it’s changed over time. Either way, tourists in the area have spotted the animal before, but safari guide Deon De Villiers was the first to photograph it and send the image to experts in the U.S.
But why is his skin colour different?
Luke Hunter, the President of Panthera, a U.S.-based wild cat-conservation group, suspects that the leopard has erythrism, a genetic condition that could cause either an overproduction of red pigments or an underproduction of dark pigments. It’s unusual for erythrism to be found in carnivores (like leopards), and it's seen most often in coyotes, raccoons and Eurasian badgers.
Does it harm the leopard at all?
"It's really rare—I don't know of another credible example in leopards," says Hunter. He also explained that the skin change doesn’t seem to be affecting the leopard’s health. It’s unlikely that he suffers any ill consequences from his strawberry skin.
The worst case scenario is that the colour would give him away as a predator. Leopards rely on their coat as camouflage to catch their prey. While this coat is different from a leopard’s classic look, it still provides some blending in with the atmosphere.
Way to be different, strawberry leopard!