Creatures don’t come much more magical than the black leopard. Creatures of myth and legend, rumours as to their existence in the Laikipia region of Kenya have swirled down the years for over a century. But actual sightings and photos have been virtually non-existant.
All this changed in January when wildlife photographer, Will Burrard-Lucas, got wind of a number of black leopard sightings around the Laikipia Wilderness Camp. He was instantly entranced. ‘For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful,’ he said in his blog, ‘for many years, they remained the stuff of dreams … nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either.’
Will set off for the Camp immediately and set up his Camtraptions Camera Trap on the path where the leopard had supposedly been seen. The next day he checked his camera – no leopard. And so it continued until the fourth night. Then his luck changed. ‘As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera,’ he reports, ‘I paused and peered at the photograph in awe…a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness… a black leopard!’
‘We had always heard about black leopard living in this region, but the stories were absent of high-quality footage that could confirm their existence,’ said Nicholas Pilford, scientist at San Diego Zoo Global and lead researcher for a leopard conservation program in Laikipia County. ‘This is what Will’s photos and videos on our remote cameras now prove.’
About Image: © Will Burrard-Lucas
This black or melanistic leopard is thought to be (approximately) two years old and male. Close examination of his coat reveals the leopard’s typical markings to still be present, but in this case they are hidden by the excess of black pigment, melanin. The effect is that of the finest printed black silk.