Rare black leopard spotted in Kenya -- a first in Africa since 1909

Rare black leopard spotted in Kenya -- a first in Africa since 1909

British wildlife photographer, Will Burrard-Lucas, on Monday, captured a series of high-quality images of a wild melanistic leopard (loosely referred to as a black panther) close to the Laikipia Wilderness Camp, Kenya.

A wildlife photographer captured an image of a black leopard late at night, something that's fairly uncommon among wildlife enthusiasts.

His dream was to capture one of the rarest of African big cats - the mythical black leopard. "As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at the photograph below in incomprehension ... a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness ... a black leopard!" The team of biologists had placed remote wildlife cameras to track the leopard population in Laikipia County previous year when they heard unconfirmed reports of a possible black leopard sighting.

According to National Geographic, the extremely rare animal has melanism, where the body produces too much pigment.

While albinism causes whiteness due to a lack of pigmentation, the genetic variation melanism results in an excess of dark pigmentation.

A black leopard lounging at the The Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve.

In a video documenting his photography expedition, Burrard-Lucas filmed himself going to check the camera.

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

After meeting with locals who had seen the animals, and following leopard tracks, Burrard-Lucas set up a Camtraptions camera trap that included wireless motion sensors, in the hope of photographing the animals at night.

"Usually on these camera trap photos with the flash you see the animal very clearly".

Black leopards may have been living in Kenya all along, but there's been no footage to confirm the observations until now, Pilfold said.

Will has left his cameras at the park in Kenya and is flying back in a few weeks to see what else they've picked up - but time to get more pictures is running out.

Will captured a spotted leopard on one of the camera traps, which could be the black leopard's dad.

While there have been reports of sightings of black leopards - also known as black panthers - the last confirmed observation was in Ethiopia more than a century ago, he said.

Published in the African Journal of Ecology, the photos represent the first scientific documentation of such a creature in Africa in almost a century. An April 2017 study found an overall incidence of melanism of 11 percent among leopards, but noted that different habitats showed different frequencies of melanism.