There are few photographs of black leopards in the wild, as not only are these beautiful beasts rare and shy of human contact, they are very hard to spot. The photograph above may be the first of the elusive cat in the wild in Africa for a century.
Panther is another term for an all-black leopard, and sometimes the leopards’ characteristic “rosette” spots can be seen, as here.
Only a small proportion of leopards are black. The ones that are usually live in dense forests in Asia, where their dark coloring helps them blend in as they hunt. Imagine this one emerging from the shadows with its eyes on you.
In Laikipia, Kenya, on the 11th of February 11, Will captured a series of high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard (otherwise known as a black panther). This was the first time the animal has been photographed in Africa since 1909, said Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo.
UK photographer Will Burrard-Lucas had been trying to photograph a panther for years when he heard of sightings near Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, so he went to visit. The owner soon picked up some fresh leopard tracks nearby and Burrard-Lucas set up camera traps.
“Steve confirmed that it was true and he had seen several black leopards over the years. On arrival in Laikipia, Steve took me to meet Luisa Ancilotto who lived close to the camp and had seen a black leopard recently. She told us as much as she knew about the leopard’s habits and territory.”
The female leopard’s coat is pitch black due to melanism, a gene mutation that results in an over-production of pigment, Pilfold added. It’s the opposite of albinism. And although the leopard’s rocking a black coat during the day, its rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery.
“No animal is more elusive,” wrote Burrard-Lucas on his blog. “ Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either.”
Burrard-Lucas’s technique of making camera traps that set off high-quality lighting has also managed to catch elephants, lions, and wildebeests.
Image credits: Burrard-Lucas Photography