British wildlife photographer, Will Burrard-Lucas, on Monday, captured a series of high-quality images of a wild melanistic leopard (loosely referred to as a black panther) close to the Laikipia Wilderness Camp, Kenya.
Working in collaboration with biologists from San Diego Zoo in the area, Burrard-Lucas went about installing camera traps in a well-protected area where the black leopard was rumoured to frequent. However, as news of his find quickly spread across the continent, folks at the Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy, about 30 miles west of Loisaba, produced their own photo of a black leopard, taken in 2007.
Nine subspecies of leopard range across Africa and Asia, but melanistic versions of the cats are not evenly distributed between them.
Nick Pilfold, a San Diego Zoo global scientist, said they captured the footage after months of watching and waiting. "But as it blended in with the black night so well all I could see was these eyes staring out of the picture".
"Collectively these are the first confirmed images in almost 100 years of black leopard in Africa, and this region is the only known spot in all of Africa to have black leopard".
In a blog post, Will Burrard-Lucus tells the story of hearing how a black leopard had been sighted in Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya.
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Contrary to popular belief, black panthers are not a species, the animals commonly referred to by these name are simply melanistic leopards and jaguars that have a mutation responsible for their dark or black coat.
This genetic variation, the opposite of albinism, results in an excess of dark pigmentation.
They weren't sure whether the tracks they were following were those of the black leopard or a regular spotted one. "The only place where we have black leopards is where this place in the Marvel Universe appears to exist". I think when I started this project I didn't actually think I was going to be able to achieve a shot of a black leopard in Africa but that it is exactly what is here on the back of my camera. (Supplied) The Camtraptions camera trap used to capture the animal.
Summing up the black leopard in three words, Burrard-Lucas said: 'They are truly stunning, handsome and elusive'.
Will captured a spotted leopard on one of the camera traps, which could be the black leopard's dad. "Just the most stunning, spectacular creature I think I've ever photographed!"
You don't need two black leopards to make one, but both parents need to carry the recessive gene for melanism.