A rare black African leopard

Image at Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya capured using Camtraptions Camera Trap by Will Burrard-Lucas

But a British wildlife photographer has become the first person to photograph the black leopard in more than a century.

Image Courtesy of BBC Earth / Photographer: Will Burrard-Lucas. However, as news of his find quickly spread across the continent, folks at the Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy, about 30 miles west of Loisaba, produced their own photo of a black leopard, taken in 2007.

"Black leopards are iconic creatures and yet very few images of wild black leopards exist", he said.

Slinking through the darkness, these stunning images show an ultra-rare black leopard in action.

Nick Pilfold, a San Diego Zoo global scientist, said they captured the footage after months of watching and waiting.

This is the second black panther to be spotted in Laikipia after a similar discovery was recorded by then Nation photojournalist Phoebe Okall in 2013 at Ol Jogi Conservancy.

"Even when you talk to the older guys that were guides in Kenya many years ago, back when hunting was legal [in the 1950s and '60s], there was a known thing that you didn't hunt black leopards".

It wasn't until he visited the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya that he finally had an opportunity to take photos of the panther.

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"The opposite of albinism, melanism is the result of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal so that it appears black". These were placed in areas the black leopard was rumoured to frequent.

They weren't sure whether the tracks they were following were those of the black leopard or a regular spotted one.

Working in collaboration with biologists in the area, Burrard-Lucas went about installing camera traps.

He says that he used a plethora of camera traps each consisting of a Camtraptions wireless motion sensor, a high-quality DSLR camera and two or three flashes.

He said he left his cameras outside for several nights. "Look at this!" he said in disbelief. I think when I started this project I didn't actually think I was going to be able to achieve a shot of a black leopard in Africa but that it is exactly what is here on the back of my camera.

"I can't believe it really".

When Pilford published his proof in the African Journal of Ecology in late January 2019, he believed it was the first such confirmed sighting in Africa since 1909, when a photograph was taken of a black cat in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The cat is so rare it has taken on an nearly mythical status, which is reflected by the fact the creature hadn't been photographed in Africa in nearly 100 years.

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