'I couldn't believe it' - photographer captures elusive, rare black leopard on camera

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Will Burrard-Lucas, who shot the images of the black leopard, described his longtime dream to photograph the big cat. "Surely I was not going to be lucky enough to actually photograph a melanistic African leopard?!" The photographer used a Camtraptions camera trap and wireless motion sensors, which were strategically placed in order to capture the historic pics.

At night, the female panther was seen alone, but during the day she was seen following an adult female leopard.

"It was the ultimate subject". "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!" "It took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream".

Melanism is a genetic mutation like albinism, except it leads to a surplus in pigment that turns the fur or skin of an animal black.

Before Pilford's picture, the only confirmed sighting of a black leopard in Africa was a photograph taken in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1909. The elder told him he had seen a black leopard, which he said are known in the Samburu language as "calf killers".

With the help of a guide, he set up Camtraptions camera traps along a path where they found fresh footprints - though it was unclear if the tracks belonged to a black leopard or a regular spotted one.

While there have been reported sightings, black leopards are still considered rare in the continent, Pilfold said.

Will Burrard-Lucas posted photos of his incredible images online after his adventure in Africa.

Pilfold's team of biologists had placed remote wildlife cameras to track the leopard population near a conservancy in the Laikipia County a year ago when they heard reports of a possible black leopard sighting.

"So this is an 100-year update in the natural history publications of leopards ... that needed to be done" Pilford said.

After the first attempt, Burrard-Lucas came up with nothing.

"I never get my hopes up, and after the first couple of nights I hadn't got this leopard and I was beginning to think I'd be lucky if I get a photo of a spotty leopard, let alone this black one".

Pilfold also pointed out the the location of the sighting is near where Marvel comics located its fictional country Wakanda, home of the character Black Panther. "It's been something rare and elusive and very hard to get".

Researchers didn't originally set up the cameras to find a black panther.