For the first time since 1909, a black leopard was photographed and its presence confirmed in Africa, thanks to a system of devices with sensors set up in central Kenya. The capture of the images was made possible by the mobilization of San Diego Zoo researchers studying leopards in the Kenyan Loisaba Conservancy and working at the same time with an independent photographer.
„We are very excited to learn that these traps have been able to take rare pictures of melanic leopards, better known as black panthers,“ said the reserve on its website. Melanism is a genetic mutation comparable to albinism, which brings a surplus of pigments and makes the skin or fur of a black animal.
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The study, conducted by researcher Nicholas Pilfold of the San Diego Zoo and published in January in the journal African Journal of Ecology , explains that these photos constitute the first scientific confirmation of the presence of black leopards in Africa in a century. The last appearance dates back to a photo taken in Addis Ababa in 1909, kept at the Museum of National History in the United States.
Eight photographic traps
In Kenya, a captive black leopard was photographed in 2013, while other images taken from a helicopter circulated in 2018. It was after being repeatedly alerted to the presence of the black panther that the researchers set up eight camera traps in February 2018. Within three months, they took a picture of a female, Pilford told AFP.
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This type of camera is equipped with sensors to detect the movements of animals. „From far away, it’s the best, most intimate images we have of a black leopard in Africa. There has been nothing like this so far , „he said, adding that in the region there were “ two without a doubt, three potentially “ .
Nicholas Pilfold’s team worked in parallel with photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, who used his own camera to take published photos at the same time as the scientists‘ study. The presence of black leopards is well documented for the Southeast Asian region, but there is little evidence of its presence in Africa. According to Pilford, 11% of leopards are black.