An extremely rare black leopard – with a silky looking, shiny coat – was discovered in Africa for the first time in over 100 years. The wildlife photographer, who captured the elusive cat, simply owes the sighting to dull luck.
Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas had heard marbles about the possible presence of a black leopard roaming the area as he made camp in Kenya. With the help of a local guide and other leopard researchers in the Laikipia district, following in the footsteps believed to belong to the leopards, Burrard-Lucas eventually opted for an ideal location to set up Camtraptions Camera Traps.
"I have no hope left and after the first few nights I did not have this leopard any more and slowly thought I would be happy to get a picture of a spotty leopard, not to mention that black one." Burrard-Lucas told BBC News that he only struck gold four days later – or even better: Black.
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Burrard-Lucas told the news organization that the black leopard could easily go undetected as he mingled with the darkness. But his shining eyes shone on film.
"Normally you can see the animal very clearly on these camera-bolt photos with the flash, but since it fitted so well into the black night, all I could see was that those eyes were staring out of the picture," he told the BBC.
After Burrard-Lucas passed on photographic evidence of his impressive discovery, it was confirmed that he was the first person to capture an African black leopard about a century ago. A group of researchers in the Laikipia district are helping Burrard-Lucas to accomplish this incredible achievement.
"Almost everyone has a story about seeing one, it's such a mythical thing."
The images now accompany a newspaper detailing the confirmed black leopard recently published in the African Journal of Ecology.
The previously confirmed sighting of a black leopard in Africa, which was also captured in the film, was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1909, according to the newspaper. A photograph of this great black cat is kept in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.
"Almost everyone has a history of seeing one of them, it's such a mythical thing," said Nick Pilfold, chief researcher for a leopard conservation program in Kenya, to National Geographic.
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In the paper, Pilfold and his team explained how they set up eight cameras around the Loisaba Conservancy after informing employees about possible sightings of a black leopard. In early 2018, they were able to see the mysterious black leopard, which was estimated to be two years, at least five times – on February 16, February 28, March 11, March 15 and April 14 – in five different locations.
"Even if you talk to the elderly people who were leaders in Kenya many years ago when the hunt was legal [in the 1950s and ‘60s]It was known that you did not hunt black leopards. If you saw her, you did not take it, "Pilford told the magazine.
According to the African Wildlife Federation (AFW), there are nine leopard subspecies native to more than 25 African countries. The black cats are classified as "vulnerable" since 1986, according to the AFW.