Researchers have confirmed that there are rare black leopards living in Laikipia County, Kenya. This is the first confirmed sighting since 1909. Black leopards are often referred to as “black panthers”—a term used for any big cat with a black coat. There have been reports of black leopards sighting in Kenya over the years, but no confirmed sightings for over 100 years.
The discovery was made by photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, alongside a team of wildlife researchers and their guide who set up cameras near to Laikipia Wilderness Camp to get undeniable proof of the extremely rare and elusive melanistic leopard. Melanism is caused by a gene that creates a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal. African black leopards are so rare that researchers have been unable to confirm if the genetic mutation responsible for their dark pigmentation is the same as the melanism found in Southeast Asian leopards.
The African Wildlife Federation (AFW) states there are nine leopard subspecies that are native to more than 25 African countries, with the black cats listed as “vulnerable” since 1986. Hopefully we can now learn more about these elusive leopards and subsequently see their numbers increase.
5 black leopard facts:
- Leopards are powerful big cats closely related to lions, tigers, and jaguars.
- The melanism gives the leopard the appearance of being completely black but its rosettes are still visible.
- There are nine leopard subspecies ranging from Africa all the way to eastern Russia
- 11% of leopards are thought to be melanistic, however most are found in Southeast Asia, where tropical forests offer an abundance of shade.
- In Kenya, black leopards seem to prefer semi-arid shrub land.