An extremely rare African “Red” Leopard was recently killed on the road near Lydenburg. The fully-grown female apparently carried a very rare genetic mutation called erythrism, which refers to the unusual reddish pigmentation of its fur and skin..
Mr Egbert Hiemstra, a farmer in the district, was called by Mr Pieter van Niekerk who saw the leopard lying in the road. Van Niekerk removed the carcass and Hiemstra went to collect it. “I could see the colour was a bit weird. We knew there were variants but weren’t aware of the fact that this was such a rare case.” He said several cars had stopped when he arrived and bystanders were already discussing what parts of it they wanted. “This animal’s black market price is very high. I basically only rescued the carcass and phoned the parks agency to come and collect it.”
Hiemstra said they occasionally found leopard prints on the farm but they hadn’t seen one recently.
According to Mr Gerrie Camacho, predator expert of the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency (MTPA), this particular genetic mutation is extraordinary. “This appearance is even scarcer than the African Black Leopard that was spotted in the mountains behind Sabie in 1952. The first account of the African “Red Leopard” was made in 2002 when the late Mr Gert Stolz told me about a sighting of what he called an “orange” leopard. “Although we have had various cameras installed to observe them in the region, there has never been a sighting of an erythristic leopard. This is the first time I have actually seen one.”
According to Camacho, there is a seemingly healthy population of normal-coloured leopard and this now indicates the possibility of having three different genetic mutations for colour in this area. Camacho said there could be several explanations for it. “What is very rare in this case is both factors contributing to the condition, the absence of black and the abundance of red, are visible. This could not be linked to albinism which is a congenital disorder characterised by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to the absence of melanin.” The hide could not be saved as rigor mortis had already set in when Camacho began the examination.
After the animal’s body was examined by Camacho it was discovered that it had been suckling until about a month ago. “If the litter survived, the cubs could be about four to six months old as leopards suckle for three months. This could also have been its second litter in its lifespan. The cat was a fully grown female that weighed in at 48kg and according to the teeth and ears, was five or six years old.” Upon closer inspection one could see the definite absence of black pigment. The nose, back of ears, gums and paws were predominantly pink.
Should there be any sightings of leopard cubs roaming near the area where the feline was killed, residents are urged to contact Tourism Marketer for assistance on 013 764 1177.
The only other reported sighting of such erythrism in a leopard was in April last year in Madikwe Reserve on the Botswana border.
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