Elusive black leopard spotted in Kenya for first time in 100 years

By Eddy Mwanza on 12 February 2019- 5:04 pm                              
  incredible
Laikipia Wilderness Camp Laikipia- Kenya Twitter

His photographs show a black leopard prowling through Laikipia Wilderness Camp in the plains of Kenya, below a full moon.

The extremely rare sighting as well as capturing of a black leopard is believed to be the first of its kind on African soil for the first time in over 100 years. It's the opposite of albinism - and although the leopard's coat appears black during the day, its rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery.

After finding tracks, Pilford setup a Camtraptions Camera Trap for several nights until he captured a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness.

After learning that several had been spotted in the Laikipia area of Kenya - the only area thought to have black leopards in all of Africa - he made a decision to investigate further and set up an expedition this January. "It took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream".

A black leopard raised in captivity at the The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in Johannesburg.

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".

"This is not just because leopards are extremely secretive and hard to see, but also because only a tiny percentage of leopards are completely black".

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Melanistic leopards are iconic creatures with a movie themed around the mythical animal interestingly based within the hypothetical land of "Wakanda" in East Africa, the same region in which the actual black panther was spotted and captured on camera. All I can see is eyes but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness.

And while 11 percent of leopards alive today are thought to be melanistic, says Pilfold, most are found in Southeast Asia, where tropical forests offer an abundance of shade.

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 that he captured was confirmed as a juvenile female, travelling with a larger normally coloured leopard, thought to be its parent.

Because of this disparity and their incredible rarity, scientists haven't had the ability to study the cause of melanism in African leopards, and aren't even sure it's caused by the same mechanism as that in South Asian leopards, which are much more commonly melanistic, National Geographic noted.

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.

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