Ultra-rare Black Leopard was seen for the First Time in Africa in 100 Years

Ultra-rare Black Leopard was seen for the First Time in Africa in 100 Years

Ultra-rare black leopard was seen for the First Time in Africa in 100 Years
Image Credits: Tiger Droppings
Photographer: Will Burrard-Lucas

Will Burrard-Lucas captured some amazing images of a rare black leopard in the Liosaba Conservancy of Kenya.

Black Leopards, also called panthers are not much different from ordinary leopards. They have a gene mutation that gives them their characteristic sleek black color. One of these black leopards, which is also known as the Black Panther (no, not the one in Wakanda), has been spotted in Africa after 100 years. Will Burrard-Lucas (a British photographer) was informed about the presence of a panther in Kenya which urged him to go in search of it. Consequently, he set up a camera trap in ‘Liosaba Conservancy’ to capture some beautiful images of this amazing creature. He talked about his achievement of imaging the rarest of the big cats. In the following words:

“For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful. For many years they remained the stuff of dreams and of farfetched stories told around the campfire at night. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either.”

Images of the Black Leopard

Stunning images of the black leopard were captured at the Laikipia Nocturnal Camp. Motion sensitive cameras were placed to capture this rare creature.  At first, the cameras only picked up hyenas so Burrard-Lucas decided to leave the cameras for several nights in order to spot the desired animal (rare black leopard). He described his experience of finding the panther by saying,

“On returning, I checked them and by the time I got to the last camera, all I had seen were pictures of hyenas but no leopards. I had a quick look at the last trap, not expecting to find much. As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at the photograph below in incomprehension… a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness… a black leopard. I couldn’t believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream.”

Stories about seeing these Black Leopards

While Burrad-Lucas was capturing stills, some researchers from San Diego Zoo Global also set up their remote video cameras nearby. Nicholas Pilford, a Biologist at San Diego zoo who has been studying the local leopard production in Kenya for quite some time now, mentioned that almost everyone has a story about seeing one, it’s such a mythical thing. Even when you talk to the older guys that were guides in Kenya many years ago, back when hunting was legal [in the 50s and 60s], there was a known thing that you didn’t hunt black leopards. If you saw them, you didn’t take it. He said,

“We heard about reports of black leopards living in Laikipia county, so what we did was we went and set cameras up in a dense grid in February last year, and in first three months we captured imagery. The type of imagery we’ve collected in the wild has been very infrequent.”

The camera also recorded a video of the majestic creature at night. At first, it seemed to be an ordinary leopard because, under the infrared night vision, everything looks black and white. These leopards appear black because of excessive development of dark pigmentations (Melanism).

The Significance of this Discovery

The discovery was surprising because stories of seeing a black leopard have been around for a long time but there has never been evidence to support these claims. In 2017, five sightings of the creature were reported but were not confirmed. For the first time in 100 years, a black leopard has been spotted with proper evidence to back the claims.

The last confirmed sighting of a rare black leopard was in Ethiopia (1909). These black panthers are extremely rare in Africa but are quite common in South-East Asia and seem to have evolved to better blend in the jungles. It is unusual to see a black leopard in an arid area like Kenya and scientists believe that the leopard lives in dense forest areas, where shade is plentiful. This raises questions on whether the cat has changed its hunting strategies in the wild or not. Pilford referred to an important aspect of this discovery by saying,

“From a conservation perspective, it’s very important because it suggests leopards in Kenya might be special genetically.”

Will noted that these are not the first ever pictures of a black leopard in Kenya but these are by far the most detailed, close-up photographs of the black beauty.

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