Sunday, 25 August, 2019

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

Melanistic leopard Melanistic leopard
Deanna Wagner | 13 February, 2019, 16:08

Wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas managed it - and it's thought to be the first time anyone has captured a melanistic leopard on camera in Africa in 100 years.

Image copyright Burrard-Lucas Photography Image caption Dad?

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 chose to investigate further and set up an expedition this January.

Most recorded sightings of black leopards have therefore been in the forests of Asia.

"In Africa, black leopards are incredibly rare and until now, the only images of them have been fleeting shots taken from great distance or graining images from low-quality trail cameras".

Biologist, Nicholas Pilfold PhD, who assisted Mr Burrard-Lucas with his photography project, confirmed the extremely rare nature of the photographs.

The big cat was traveling with a much larger, more typically-colored yellow and black leopard, judged to be the juvenile's mother, Pilfold told National Geographic.

"Collectively these are the first confirmed images in almost 100 years of a black leopard in Africa, and this region is the only known spot in all of Africa to have a black leopard". "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".

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The animal has a sooty black coat as a result of melanism, which is the opposite of albinism and is extremely rare. All I can see is eyes but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness.

In a video documenting his photography expedition, Burrard-Lucas filmed himself going to check the camera.

He says that he used a plethora of camera traps each consisting of a Camtraptions wireless motion sensor, a high-quality DSLR camera and two or three flashes.

Will captured a spotted leopard on one of the camera traps, which could be the black leopard's dad.

While checking his equipment, the photographer continues: "Scrub hare, mongoose... we have something. Look at this!" he said in disbelief. "So I've left the cameras for a few days and now I'm heading back to see if I've got anything".

"I can't believe it really".

The black leopard's sighting was published in the African Journal of Ecology. An April 2017 study found an overall incidence of melanism of 11 percent among leopards, but noted that different habitats showed different frequencies of melanism.