Black leopard captured for first time in 100 years by Brit photographer

Laikipia Wilderness Camp

Laikipia Wilderness Camp

The African black leopard was caught on camera in Africa for the first time in more than 100 years.

"As far as I know, these are the first high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard ever taken in Africa", Burrard-Lucas said.

According to the team's paper published in the African Journal of Ecology, there have been sightings of the black leopard, but the last confirmed photographic evidence was taken in Ethiopia in 1909. "That was enough for me and I chose to invest some time in checking it out", he writes.

Burrard-Lucas used a series of Camtraptions camera traps, a system he devised, that included a wireless motion sensor and a high-quality camera. "We intensified our camera placement in the area the reports were being made", he said Tuesday night.

Pilford said he's "aware of a few different photos taken over the years, but majority are taken from a distance and could not be used as confirmatory evidence".

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"I had a quick look at the last trap, not expecting to find much", he wrote on his blog.

"I never get my hopes up, and after the first couple of nights I hadn't got this leopard and I was beginning to think I'd be lucky if I get a photo of a spotty leopard, let alone this black one", Burrard-Lucas told BBC News, noting it wasn't until four days later that he struck gold - or better yet: black. "It took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream".

A team of biologists shot rare footage of the sleek big cat after spending months watching and waiting, said Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo.

This is as a result of melanism, a gene mutation that results in an over-production of pigment, the opposite of albinism.

Image Courtesy of BBC Earth / Photographer: Will Burrard-Lucas.

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"We conclude that melanism in leopards is strongly affected by natural selection, likely driven by efficacy of camouflage and/or thermoregulation in different habitats, along with an effect of moisture that goes beyond its influence on vegetation type", the authors wrote.

"Black panthers are iconic creatures and yet very few images of wild black panthers exist", said Burrard-Lucas in an email to Hyperallergic.

"Melanism occurs in about 11 percent of leopards globally".

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Most recorded sightings of black leopards have therefore been in the forests of Asia.

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Nine subspecies of leopard range across Africa and Asia, but melanistic versions of the cats are not evenly distributed between them.

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