Published: Wed, February 13, 2019

Rare black leopard spotted in Kenya -- a first in Africa since 1909

Rare black leopard spotted in Kenya -- a first in Africa since 1909

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

These remarkable images, said to be the first clear ones in 100 years of the creature, show the leopard out hunting for prey.

His dream was to capture one of the rarest of African big cats - the mythical black leopard.

Melanism is the opposite of albinism: it's when a gene is selected that causes a surplus of pigment instead of its absence, resulting in a black-on-black fur, although the patterns of the animals are often still discernible, as in Pilford's photo of the panther.

"On the second day, we managed to spot the black leopard crossing the road in front of us".

It was Steve who tipped off Will on the whereabouts of the elusive melanistic leopard, after picking up on fresh tracks allegedly belonging to the black panther, that had been spotted close to the wilderness camp.

'I couldn't believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream'.

The photograph was captured at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp, Kenya.


Nicholas Pilfold PhD, a biologist with San Diego Zoo Global who is now researching leopards at Laikipia's Loisaba Conservancy and helped Burrard-Lucas with his photography project, confirmed that the recent on-camera sighting was extremely rare.

Nicholas Pilfold PhD, a lead researcher for a leopard conservation program in Laikipia County, Keyna, said: "We had always heard about black leopard living in this region, but the stories were absent of high quality footage that could confirm their existence". Black panthers in the Americas would be black jaguars. All I can see is eyes but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness.

According to the National Geographic the black leopard captured by Mr Pilfold in 2018 has melanism and the last such sighting was in 1909. They're more commonly spotted in the jungles of Asia.

In a video documenting his photography expedition, Burrard-Lucas explains: "As far as I know none of these leopards has been photographed properly in Africa before".

The big cat was traveling with a much larger, more typically-colored yellow and black leopard, judged to be the juvenile's mother, Pilfold told National Geographic.

The black leopard could also be referred to as a black panther, as this is an umbrella term that simply refers to any big cat that has a black coat.

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.

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