Rare occurrence as black leopard is spotted in Laikipia County

Geraldine Edwards
February 14, 2019

According to Pilford, Okall's photo "is a captive black leopard that was brought from America as a kitten to Kenya, not wild".

While he was capturing stills, researchers from San Diego Zoo Global studying leopards in the area set up remote video cameras nearby, publishing their findings in the African Journal of Ecology.

Burrard-Lucas, the wildlife photographer, had also heard reports of black panther sightings in the area and traveled to Kenya to try to capture photos of his own.

The black leopard - which has not been photographed in over a century - was not confirmed to be living in Kenya until now. It's unclear whether that image was publicized at the time.

Black leopards are usually associated with dense forests where their dark colouration is thought to help them hide in the shadows.

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Pilfold also pointed out the the location of the sighting is near where Marvel comics located its fictional country Wakanda, home of the character Black Panther. The photos show the majestic animal walking through darkness, its eyes glowing as it stares directly at the viewer.

He let the cameras out for several more nights. In Africa and Asia, that generally refers to leopards. Four of these observations were at night with infrared imaging, which confirmed the animal's rosette patterning.

"Melanism occurs in about 11 per cent of leopards globally, but most of these leopards live in South East Asia".

"As far as I know, these are the first high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard ever taken in Africa", Burrard-Lucas wrote. "For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more handsome", Lucas wrote.

"They're a very elusive cat", he told NPR.

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Will Burrard-Lucas captured the images, which were released to the public on Monday, at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya after hearing reports of sightings in the area. The animals are known for being extremely secretive and hard to spot.

He leads a conservation project in partnership with the San Diego Zoo and has been independently tracking leopards for a year and half.

A black leopard is defined as the melanistic colour variant of any big cat species. In one conversation in September, he interviewed an elder who told him about the challenges they were facing with ordinary leopards killing livestock in the region.

Thankfully, for the rest of the nature-loving world, Nick Pilfold's camera traps set up around the bushlands of Loisaba Conservancy in 2018 were successful, National Geographic reported.

"Since childhood I have been fascinated by stories of black panthers".

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