British wildlife photographer captures African black leopard in rare sighting

Melanistic 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".

The veteran wildlife photographer was then able to set up his Camtraptions camera traps at the most ideal spots and waited it out.

"I couldn't believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream". He said the black leopards are famous for killing livestock in the region, where they refer to them as "calf killers".

Will Burrard-Lucas says the black leopard could easily go undetected at night. "If you saw them, you didn't take it", Pilford told the magazine.

"It is likely that black leopards have been living in Kenya all along, it is only that high quality imagery to confirm it has been missing until now", Pilfold said.

"My ears pricked up and I contacted the owners Steve and Annabelle Carey to find out more".

"I never get my hopes up, and after the first couple of nights I hadn't got this leopard and I was beginning to think I'd be lucky if I get a photo of a spotty leopard, let alone this black one".

In early 2018, they were able to spot the mysterious black leopard, estimated to be a 2-year-old female, at least five times - February 16, Feb. 28, March 11, March 15 and April 14 - five different locations.

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It's easy to think of black panthers as animals in their own right, but Will says that's not the case.

"We conclude that melanism in leopards is strongly affected by natural selection, likely driven by efficacy of camouflage and/or thermoregulation in different habitats, along with an effect of moisture that goes beyond its influence on vegetation type", the authors wrote.

"It's kind of like albino but the other way".

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.

This doesn't mean the big cat is totally black though, with Mr Burrard-Lucas' pictures revealing typical markings hidden within the leopard's glossy, sooty coat. Black panthers in the Americas would be black jaguars.

"Black panther is a looser term".

Image copyright Burrard-Lucas Photography Image caption Dad? It's the opposite of albinism - and although the leopard's coat appears black during the day, its rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery.

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

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