A British wildlife photographer captured images of a rare African black leopard in Kenya in the first verifiable record of the nocturnal animal on camera, according to researchers, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Will Burrard-Lucas set up motion-sensitive cameras in Laikipia Wilderness Camp last month after hearing from a friend that a black leopard had been spotted in the area. “I’m able to set up a kind of studio-like lighting and just leave my cameras set up for weeks or months,” he said.
Along with a guide named Steve, Burrard-Lucas followed the leopard’s tracks through the undergrowth and set up his camera traps. The cameras managed to snap images of the black leopard on the fourth night. Black leopards carry a gene mutation for melanism, which makes their coats black during the day. The spots, however, are visible in night-time infrared imagery.
Burrard-Lucas used night-time infrared cameras to photograph the animal.
“For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful,” Burrard-Lucas posted on his blog. “For many years, they remained the stuff of dreams and of farfetched stories told around the campfire at night. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either.”
The black leopard caught on camera is a male and around two years old, BBC reported. Leopards are described as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.
According to Nicholas Pilfold, lead researcher for a leopard conservation programme in Laikipia County, a “confirmed image” means it is clear and detailed enough to see the leopard’s characteristic pattern. A team of biologists led by Pilford also shot rare footage of the black leopard and the finding was published in the African Journal of Ecology.
“We had always heard about black leopards living in this region, but the stories were absent of high quality footage that could confirm their existence,” said Pilfold. “Collectively, these are the first confirmed images in nearly 100 years of a black leopard in Africa, and this region is the only known spot in all of Africa to have a black leopard.”
Pilford said prior to the observations in the journal, the last confirmed observation of a black leopard was in 1909 in Ethiopia, CNN reported. While a photographer in Kenya had shot an image of a black leopard in 2013 in the same area, Pilford said it could not be used as confirmatory evidence.