A wildlife photographer and biologists working in Kenya have captured images that scientifically document the elusive African black leopard for the first time in more than a century, according to multiple reports.
Images of the animal were caught on camera traps set up at Kenya's Laikipia Wilderness Camp by British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, according to The Guardian. He released the images Monday.
“I have never seen a high-quality image of a wild black leopard come out of Africa, even though stories of them being seen are sometimes told… ‘a friend of a friend saw a black leopard crossing the road early one morning,’” Burrard-Lucas wrote in a blog post. “As far as I know, these are the first high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard ever taken in Africa.”
Black leopards, which have dark coats from a condition opposite of albinism known as melanism, are known in Africa and Asian as black panthers, according to USA Today. The animals have been sighted in the forests of Asia, but they are extremely uncommon in Africa, the newspaper reported.
Burrard-Lucas said he traveled to Laikipia after hearing of black leopard sightings in the area. He said that with the help of locals he was able to determine where leopards were likely to appear and set up camera traps consisting of Camptraptions wireless motion sensors, high-quality DSLR cameras and flashes.
Initially, he caught little more than common hyenas on camera. However, he said that changed after several nights of checking the traps.
“I checked them and by the time I got to the last camera, all I had seen were pictures of hyenas but no leopards,” Burrard-Lucas said. “I had a quick look at the last trap, not expecting to find much. As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at the photograph below in incomprehension… a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness… a black leopard! I couldn’t believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream.”
Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo and author of an article published in the African Journal of Ecology about the new images, said the photos are the first to show the black leopard in Africa since 1909, The Guardian reported. That year, a photographer caught an image of a black leopard in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, according to the newspaper.
"We had always heard about black leopards living in this region, but the stories were absent of high quality footage that could confirm their existence," Pilfold told BBC News. "Collectively these are the first confirmed images in nearly 100 years of a black leopard in Africa, and this region is the only known spot in all of Africa to have a black leopard."