Published: Thu, February 14, 2019
Global Media | By Garry Long

Kenya: First Photographs of An African Black Leopard in 100 Years

Kenya: First Photographs of An African Black Leopard in 100 Years

The leopard has a condition known as melanism, which makes the body produce an excess of pigment, turning her coat a deep, inky black.

A black leopard has been spotted in Africa for first time in 100 years.

Mr Burrard-Lucas said he created his own camera system to photograph the black leopard in Kenya. He uses the Camtraptions motion sensor to trigger "a high quality DSLR or mirrorless camera and two or three flashes", he told Hyperallergic.

After several days without success Burrard-Lucas returned to his cameras to find a striking image. All I can see is eyes but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness. "It took a few days to really sink in".

The images were captured by researchers from the San Diego Zoo who have been studying leopards in the Loisaba wildlife conservancy, as well as an independent photographer working in the region at the same time.

Melanism in big cats is linked to a mutation of a signalling protein that affects pigmentation.

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

Pilfold said his team of biologists had placed remote cameras to track the leopard population near a conservancy area in Laikipia County past year when they heard reports of a possible black leopard sighting. With their cameras, they caught first photographic evidence of a black leopard in Africa since 1909.

"These are the first high-quality camera trap photos of a black leopard anywhere".

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". During the day, the leopard's coat appears black in its entirety, but at night, the leopard-print pattern is visible due to infrared imagery, as seen in Burrard-Lucas's photographs. The 2013 image in particular, he said, "is a captive black leopard that was brought from America as a kitten to Kenya, not wild".

While there have been reported sightings, black leopards are still considered rare in the continent, Pilfold said.

"It is certain black panthers have been there all along, but good footage that could confirm it has always been absent until now", San Diego institute scientist Nicholas Pilfold wrote on an Instagram post. Even if it means we won't get a chance to see them again, their safety and place in our world is more important than interfering with their happiness and security.

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