Stunning images capture rare black leopard in Africa

Melanistic leopard

While there have been reports of sightings of black leopards - also known as black panthers - the last confirmed observation was in Ethiopia more than a century ago, he said.

That's because the 35-year-old British wildlife photographer has captured pictures the likes of which have not been seen in almost a century.

After learning that several had been spotted in the Laikipia area of Kenya, he chose to investigate further and set up an expedition this January.

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. 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.

He used specialist equipment including wireless motion sensors, high-quality DSLR cameras and two to three flashes.

"I couldn't believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream".

Nicholas Pilfold, from the institute for conservation research at the San Diego Zoo, is the author of an article in the African Journal of Ecology about the new photographic evidence captured by Burrard-Lucas.

Why it matters: Scientists say that finding black leopards in this region is a rarity.

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'This is what Will's photos and the videos on our remote cameras now prove, and are exceptionally rare in their detail and insight.

Melanistic leopards are iconic creatures with a movie themed around the mythical animal interestingly based within the hypothetical land of "Wakanda" in East Africa, the same region in which the actual black panther was spotted and captured on camera.

The high-quality system made it possible to see the majestic black leopard, a rarely photographed big cat, despite it being dark.

And while 11 percent of leopards alive today are thought to be melanistic, says Pilfold, most are found in Southeast Asia, where tropical forests offer an abundance of shade.

The leopard's appearance is attributed to melanism - the development of the dark-coloured pigment melanin in the skin or hair of animals.

Writes Burrard-Lucas, "I can still scarcely believe that this project - which started out as a speculative recce trip - has paid such spectacular dividends!"

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.

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.

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