Rare black leopard in Laikipia captured in a photographic first

The black leopard, known as a black panther in Africa and Asia, is a secretive and elusive creature, one in which wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas dreamed of capturing in high-quality photographs.

Most recorded sightings of black leopards or melanistic leopards are from the forests of Asia. But in Africa, where Burrard-Lucas’s quest took him, these black-coated leopards are said to be extremely rare.

When he heard about several sightings near Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, Burrard-Lucas headed there in January and hit the jackpot with several images, which he released to the public for the first time on Monday.

“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,” said Nicholas Pilford, scientist at San Diego Zoo Global and lead researcher for a leopard conservation program in Laikipia County. “This is what Will’s photos and the videos on our remote cameras now prove, and are exceptionally rare in their detail and insight.

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

Burrard-Lucas used a Camtraptions Camera Trap and set it up on a path black leopards seemed to be using, as tracks had been spotted by the camp’s owner Steve Carey.

“The next day I eagerly checked the cameras but had no images of leopards,” Burrard-Lucas wrote in a blog post, “I was disheartened and suddenly felt the enormity of what I was trying to achieve. Surely I was not going to be lucky enough to actually photograph a melanistic African leopard?!”

The wildlife photographer left several cameras out for several more nights. Upon checking them he found no black leopards, until he reached the last camera.

“As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at the photograph in incomprehension…a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness… a black leopard!” he wrote. “I couldn’t believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream.”

He set out his camera traps over the next several days and captured more images of the black leopard, including one with a full moon setting behind a ridge.

“As far as I know, these are the first high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard ever taken in Africa,” Burrard-Lucas wrote. “I can still scarcely believe that this project – which started out as a speculative recce trip – has paid such spectacular dividends!”

Source: USA Today

See also: National Geographic