- This is the first time that one has been caught on camera 'properly' in Africa for 100 years.
- 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 - Burrard-Lucas decided to investigate further and set up an expedition this January.
- The last time a black leopard was properly photographed in Africa was in 1909 in Ethiopia.
An ultra-rare black panther has been sighted for the first time in 100 years in Kenya.
The creature - which almost has a mythical status - was captured by British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, 35, while it was prowling around the plains of Kenya in the dead of night with a full moon looming above.
This is the first time that one has been caught on camera 'properly' in Africa for 100 years.
Its wide eyes can be seen looking eagerly for prey, while leopard-like spots can vaguely be seen on its sooty coat, which is the result of melanism.
This genetic variation, the opposite of albinism, results in an excess of dark pigmentation.
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 - Burrard-Lucas decided to investigate further and set up an expedition this January.
Working in collaboration with biologists from San Diego Zoo in the area, he went about installing camera traps in a well-protected area where the black leopard was rumoured to frequent.
He used specialist equipment including wireless motion sensors, high-quality DSLR cameras and two to three flashes.
"As far as I know none of these leopards has never been photographed properly in Africa before... So I’ve left the cameras for a few days and now I’m heading back to see if I’ve got anything," Burrard-Lucas said in a video documenting his photography expedition.
The Brit said he couldn't believe it when he returned to one of the traps one day and saw a black leopard staring back at the camera lens.
“I can’t believe it really. I think when I started this project I didn’t actually think I was going to be able to achieve a shot of a black leopard in Africa but that it is exactly what is here on the back of my camera. Just the most stunning, spectacular creature I think I’ve ever photographed!’
The last time a black leopard was properly photographed in Africa was in 1909 in Ethiopia. The image is stored at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.
“We had always heard about black leopard living in this region, but the stories were absent of high-quality footage that could confirm their existence.
“This is what Will's photos and the videos on our remote cameras now prove, and are exceptionally rare in their detail and insight,” said Nicholas Pilfold PhD, a biologist with San Diego Zoo Global, who is currently researching leopards at Laikipia's Loisaba Conservancy and who captured the black leopard on video over the period of a year.
Black leopards are usually associated with dense forests where their dark colouration is thought to help them hide in the shadows.
Most recorded sightings of black leopards have therefore been in the forests of Asia.
A subadult female black leopard was sighted on February 16, February 28, March 11, March 15 and April 14, 2018, at five different camera locations'.
The black leopard can also be referred to as a black panther because this is an umbrella term that simply refers to any big cat that has a black coat.
Published in January in the African Journal of Ecology, these photos represent the first scientific documentation of such a creature in Africa in nearly a century.