It has been over 100 years since the last confirmed sighting of a black leopard (also known as black panthers) in Africa. The last confirmed observation was 1909 in Ethiopia.
A team of biologists captured the rare footage in 2018 after spending months watching and waiting. They had set up cameras to track the leopard population once they heard reports of a possible black leopard sighting. The team published their research in the African Journal of Ecology in late January 2019.
The images provide important confirmation, “It is likely that black leopards have been living in Kenya all along…” says Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo. He said he’s aware of a few other sightings and photos over the years, but most of them were taken from a distance and could not be used as confirmatory evidence. There was a 2013 image once, but it was of a captive black leopard that had been brought from America as a kitten to Kenya, it was not a wild leopard.
Black leopard’s coats look pitch black as a result of melanism, which is a gene mutation that causes an over-production of pigment. It’s basically the opposite of albinism. The leopard’s coat appears black during the day, but the rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery, as seen in the video below.
According to Pilford, melanism only occurs in about 11% of leopards around the world, but most of them live in Southeast Asia. Although there have been reported sightings in Kenya, black leopards in Africa are extremely rare.
The Wildlife photographer who shot the images, Will Burrard-Lucas, describes his longtime dream of photographing a black leopard on his blog: “For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful”. He goes on to say, “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.” Burrard-Lucas also has some amazing PHOTOS of the leopard on his blog! Take a look!
For more details about this story, see here: CNN Black Leopard
Video of the rare black leopard spotted in Kenya: