Extremely rare, elusive black leopard caught on camera in Kenya

By Eddy Mwanza on 12 February 2019- 5:04 pm                              
  incredible
Laikipia Wilderness Camp Laikipia- Kenya Twitter

By Eddy Mwanza on 12 February 2019- 5:04 pm incredible Laikipia Wilderness Camp Laikipia- Kenya Twitter

"We are very excited to hear that these camera traps have captured rare footage of melanistic leopards, otherwise known as black panthers!" the conservancy said on its website.

"My ears pricked up and I contacted the owners Steve and Annabelle Carey to find out more".

Pilfold said his team of biologists had placed remote cameras to track the leopard population near a conservancy area in Laikipia County past year when they heard reports of a possible black leopard sighting. "That was enough for me and I made a decision to invest some time in checking it out", he writes.

The veteran wildlife photographer was then able to set up his Camtraptions camera traps at the most ideal spots and waited it out.

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

Working in collaboration with biologists from San Diego Zoo in the area, Burrard-Lucas went about installing camera traps in a well-protected area where the black leopard was rumoured to frequent. "So I've left the cameras for a few days and now I'm heading back to see if I've got anything".

"If you saw them, you didn't take it", says Dr. Nicholas Pilfold who serves at the San Diego Zoo Global as a Scientist in Population Sustainability.

(Supplied) Black leopards are so rare in Africa, researchers don't know if the genetic mutation responsible for the dark pigmentation is the same one that underlies melanism in Southeast Asian leopards.

Black leopards are well documented in South East Asia, but little is known about their presence in Africa.

Writes Burrard-Lucas, "I can still scarcely believe that this project - which started out as a speculative recce trip - has paid such spectacular dividends!"

His team recently published a paper in the African Journal of Ecology on their findings and he coordinated press releases to be timed with Burrard-Lucas' rare photos.

In the hope of photographing the animals at night, the trap camera included wireless motion sensors.

Melanistic leopards have been reported in and around Kenya for decades. They are more often recorded in the forests of Asia, but even there sightings are rare.

Black panthers are the catch-all term for any big cats, like leopards and jaguars, with melanism.

The sightings in arid Laikipia County are particularly significant as black panthers have previously been spotted more commonly in dense forest, where the darker leopards' camouflage would appear to be most effective.

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