Rare black leopard seen in Kenya

Sergio Conner
February 13, 2019

"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".

This genetic variation, the opposite of albinism, results in an excess of dark pigmentation.

Burrard-Lucas said in his release that he was always interested in black panthers.

After learning that several had been spotted in the Laikipia area of Kenya, he made a decision to investigate further and set up an expedition this January.

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

He used specialist equipment including wireless motion sensors, high-quality DSLR cameras and two to three flashes.

After finding tracks, Pilford setup a Camtraptions Camera Trap for several nights until he captured a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness. "It took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream".

These black-coated leopards were sighted by Burrard-Lucas in Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, where he been camping since January.

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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.

"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".

"This is what Will's photos and the videos on our remote cameras now prove, and are exceptionally rare in their detail and insight". (Supplied) Black panthers are an umbrella term that refers to any big cat with a black coat. All I can see is eyes but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness.

While 11 per cent of leopards alive today are thought to be melanistic, most are found in Southeast Asia where tropical forests offer an abundance of shade. "For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more lovely", Lucas wrote.

"Black leopards in Africa are extremely rare, and prior to the observations in our published paper, the last confirmed observation was 1909 in Ethiopia".

The juvenile female was spotted travelling with a larger, normally coloured leopard, presumed to be her mother.

According to the National Geographic the black leopard captured by Mr Pilfold in 2018 has melanism and the last such sighting was in 1909.

This doesn't mean the big cat is totally black though, with Mr Burrard-Lucas' pictures revealing typical markings hidden within the leopard's glossy, sooty coat.

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