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Black panther: Rare animal caught on camera in Kenya

13 February 2019

Nicholas Pilfold PhD, a biologist with San Diego Zoo Global who is now researching leopards at Laikipia's Loisaba Conservancy and helped Burrard-Lucas with his photography project, confirmed that the recent on-camera sighting was extremely rare.

His dream was to capture one of the rarest of African big cats - the mythical black leopard.

Also known as a "melanistic" leopards, these sleek felines have a mutation marked by a prevalence of dark pigment over light.

The creature - which nearly 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.

"Since childhood I have been fascinated by stories of black leopards".

His photographs show a black leopard prowling through Laikipia Wilderness Camp in the plains of Kenya, below a full moon.

Burrard-Lucas had heard reports of black leopard sightings, such as the one published in January in the African Journal of Ecology by San Diego Zoo Global researchers. His team of biologists had placed remote wildlife cameras to track the leopard population near Loisaba Conservancy in Laikipia County previous year when they heard unconfirmed reports of a possible black leopard sighting.

Pilfold is part of a team from the San Diego Zoo working with local partners, including the Kenya Wildlife Service, to monitor leopard populations in the area to help preserve the species.

"I left the cameras for several more nights".

Burrard-Lucas used a Camtraptions Camera Trap that included wireless motion sensors, which pick up animals movements in the dark.

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.

Black leopards may have been living in Kenya all along, but there's been no footage to confirm the observations until now, Pilfold said.

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

According to the National Geographic the black leopard captured by Mr Pilfold in 2018 has melanism and the last such sighting was in 1909.

"This is not just because leopards are extremely secretive and hard to see, but also because only a tiny percentage of leopards are completely black".

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

"Coincidentally, our observations are very close to where the fantasy Marvel comic country of Wakanda is suggested to be located", he said.

Black panther: Rare animal caught on camera in Kenya