A rare and elusive black panther has been caught on camera for the first time in nearly a century.
It’s been a long-held dream of wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas to get a photograph of the African black leopard and he finally succeeded with the help of a camera trap.
While visiting Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, Burrard-Lucas set up a Camtraptions trail camera in hopes of finally getting a photograph of the black leopard (note: black panthers refer to any large black wild cat – leopard or jaguar).
The camera was carefully hidden in order to photograph animals in their natural habitat, night and day, with no humans around.
He managed to catch hyenas and a spotted leopard his first few nights at camp.
“A handsome spotty leopard captured on my camera trap in Kenya. What I am really hoping for here is a Black Leopard! Will I get it?”
And then four nights in, he checked his camera and he couldn’t believe it – there it was a photo of the majestic, beautiful black leopard.
“A wild African black leopard… A dream come true!”
“Since childhood I have been fascinated by stories of black panthers,” Burrard-Lucas wrote on his blog. “For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild, and I never thought that I would either. But that didn’t stop me [from] dreaming.”
“As far as I know, these are the first high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard ever taken in Africa,” he added.
He got several marvelous shots of the inky black cat.
Although numerous news outlets claimed his photos are the “first in 100 years”, Burrard-Lucas clarifies, “the headline, ‘first in 100 years,’ is derived from a quote attributed to scientists from San Diego Zoo stating that my images, in combination with their video footage, constitute the first scientific documentation of such a creature in Africa in nearly a century”.
“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,” Nicholas Pilfold, PhD, lead researcher for a leopard conservation program in Laikipia County, said in a press release. “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.”
As beautiful as the photos are, many animal lovers have voiced strong concerns that identifying where he took the photos of the leopard may make the cat a target for trophy hunters.
Burrard-Lucas addressed this on his blog, writing: “People have raised the valid concern that the leopard may now be a target for trophy hunters. Fortunately trophy hunting is illegal in Kenya. My take is that the benefits of promoting tourism far outweigh the risks and hence I have stated the location. Tourism brings valuable revenue to these places and is often a critical source of funding for conservation efforts. I would like to encourage people to visit Kenya, support local communities through tourism and look for leopards; you have a good chance of spotting a spotty leopard and maybe, just maybe, a black one.”