“For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful. For many years they remained the stuff of dreams and of far-fetched stories told around the campfire at night. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either. But that didn’t stop me dreaming…”
These were the words written on the blog of Will Burrard-Lucas, a professional wildlife photographer from the UK, referring to the black panther – an umbrella term used to call species of big cats with black fur.
Nick Pilford, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo, says that though there have been previous reports of black panther sightings in Africa, high-quality imagery to confirm it has been missing. In fact, the last confirmed observation was made way back in 1909 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – more than a century ago!
Burrard-Lucas is extremely lucky, as he was able to capture clear and close-up photos of the ultra-rare black leopard in Kenya, which make up only 11% of leopards that are alive today. The black leopard sighting was published in the African Journal of Ecology.
A team of biologists, together with Burrard-Lucas, captured the images and videos by installing remote cameras to track the leopard population near a conservancy area in Laikipia County after they heard of a possible leopard sighting in the area last year.
“We intensified our camera placement in the area the reports were being made,” Pilford said. “Within a few months, we were rewarded with multiple observations on our cameras.”
The juvenile female was seen traveling with a larger, normally colored leopard believed to be her mother.
The leopard’s coat is black because of melanism, a gene mutation that causes an over-production of pigment. Although the leopard’s coat appears pitch black during the day, its rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery.
Burrard-Lucas shot the images at Laikipia Wilderness Camp using Camtraptions Camera, which specializes in wildlife photography and footage. The cameras were strategically placed near animal trails and water sources such as pools and natural springs.
Burrard-Lucas said: “People have raised the valid concern that the leopard may now be a target for trophy hunters. Fortunately trophy hunting is illegal in Kenya. My take is that the benefits of promoting tourism far out way the risks and hence I have stated the location. Tourism brings critical revenue to these places and is often the only source of funding for conservation efforts.”
Leopards are categorized as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. Hunting, habitat loss, competition for prey, and conflict with livestock and farmers all have contributed to the decline of their population.
According to National Geographic: “Most leopards are light colored with distinctive dark spots that are called rosettes, because they resemble the shape of a rose. Black leopards, which appear to be almost solid in color because their spots are hard to distinguish, are commonly called BLACK PANTHERS.”
Watch the clip below from Will Burrard-Lucas’ YouTube to have a glimpse of his quest to capture the rare African Black Leopard.
All photos were taken from Burrard-Lucas Wildlife Photography. If you love nature, you better check out his website.