Rare black leopard photographed for first time in 110 years

Laikipia Wilderness Camp

Daily Nation photojournalist Phoebe Okall has disputed claims that photos of rare African black panther (black leopard) shot by Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo, were the first since 1909.

"When I heard that a black leopard had been seen up at Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya my ears pricked up and I contacted the owners Steve and Annabelle Carey to find out more", he said.

Early past year, Pilfold and his team placed remote cameras near the conservancy after they heard reports of a possible black leopard, also called a black panther.

The leopard - which is also referred to as a black panther - derives its dark coat from melanism, the opposite of albinism.

Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas used a special type of camera set up called Camtraptions, which he created to take pictures of the shiest of animals.

"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!" he wrote in a blog post.

"These are the first high-quality camera trap photos of a black leopard anywhere". (Supplied) The Camtraptions camera trap used to capture the animal.

A black leopard lounging at the The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.

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There are nine leopard subspecies located from Africa all the way to eastern Russian Federation.

"Black leopards are usually associated with dense forests where their dark colouration may help them hide in the shadows", Burrard-Lucas explained.

Published in the African Journal of Ecology, the photos represent the first scientific documentation of such a creature in Africa in almost a century. "It took a few days to really sink in".

"Since childhood I have been fascinated by stories of black panthers". Among leopards, an all black coat is caused by a recessive allele, which means the trait must be inherited from both of the cat's parents.

Burrard-Lucas spent a few more days on the leopard's trail, moving his camera traps along the way.

After hearing about an exceedingly rare black panther lurking around central Kenya, a biologist and his team set out to capture her on film.

But their existence is quite rare. For example, the researchers noted that a different subspecies of black leopard is much more common than lighter spotted ones in certain parts of Asia. The 2013 image in particular, he said, "is a captive black leopard that was brought from America as a kitten to Kenya, not wild".

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