Photos and video by a team from the Institute for Conservation Research of the San Diego Zoo Global and the Loisaba Conservancy in Kenya have confirmed the existence of black panthers – also known as black leopards — living in Laikipia County, Kenya. The panthers were spotted not far from the fictional setting of the movie “Black Panther“.
The panthers, a melanistic color variant of the African leopard – were filmed in Lorok, Laikipia County, Kenya, on remote cameras set up as part of a large-scale study aimed at understanding the population dynamics of leopards.
African leopards have the largest range of any subspecies of leopard, yet observations of melanism are rare. Melanism is a gene mutation occurrence where the coat appears completely black in the daytime, but infrared imagery reveals the leopard’s iconic rosette patterns at night.
After talking to locals and following leopard tracks, wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas used a special camera trap with wireless motion sensors, in hopes of photographing the animals at night. After leaving the cameras for several nights with no luck, Burrard-Lucas returned to his cameras to find an amazing image. Burrard-Lucas wrote in his blog:
I had a quick look at the last trap, not expecting to find much. 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! I couldn’t believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream.
Our researchers spotted rare black leopards–sometimes called black panthers–in Laikipia County, Kenya. Learn more: @willbl
— San Diego Zoo (@sandiegozoo) February 12, 2019
Nicholas Pilfold is a biologist at the San Diego institute and first author of the paper about the findings, published January 29, 2019, in the African Journal of Ecology. He said in an Instagram post containing a video of a black panther walking:
Black panthers are uncommon, only about 11 percent of leopards globally are black. But black panthers in Africa are extremely rare. A new paper confirms black leopards living in Laikipia County, Kenya, and our observations in the paper are collectively the first confirmed cases in Africa in nearly 100 years.
It is certain black panthers have been there all along, but good footage that could confirm it has always been absent until now.
Bottom line: First photos and video of black panther in Africa since 1909.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.