"Regionally we've heard reports of black leopards living here in Kenya, but high-quality footage or imagery to support these observations has always been missing", Nicholas Pilfold, San Diego Zoo Global scientist, said in a news release. However, the latest photos represent the first recorded scientific evidence.
"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".
Black leopards - or black panthers - carry a gene mutation for "melanism" that makes their coats black, but the night-time infrared cameras used by Burrard-Lucas can reveal their spots. "That's what we've provided here with our cameras, and now we're able to confirm what has been long suspected about black leopards living in Laikipia County". San Diego Zoo is working closely with local partners to track and research leopard populations in the area to help maintain a healthy ecosystem in which they can thrive. Will Burrard-Lucas captioned the pic.
"They're a very elusive cat", he told NPR.
After contacting the landowners, he set out his motion-sensitive cameras near the nocturnal animal's tracks. "I leave these cameras on game paths for days or even weeks at a time in order to photograph elusive animals".
"Usually on these camera trap photos with the flash you see the animal very clearly".
While 11 percent of leopards alive today are thought to be melanistic, which is the medical opposite of albinism, most are found in Southeast Asia, Pilfold said.
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Pilford said he's "aware of a few different photos taken over the years, but a lot of them are taken from a distance and could not be used as confirmatory evidence".
"My take is that the benefits of promoting tourism far outweigh the risks and hence I have stated the location", he said in an update to his blog post.
"As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at [one photograph] in incomprehension", he wrote.
At least one of the offending news outlets made a change, too, softening the iffy historical claims: "Rare black leopard captured in new images from Kenya", CNN revised.
Dozens of Kenyans took to social media to react to claims by some Western media, that a black leopard whose images were taken recently by British wildlife photographer Will Burrad-Lucas, was the first sighting in 100 years.
Yet other observers, such as the carnivore ecologist Mordecai Ogada, argued this was another example of "conservation apartheid", writing that, seemingly, "nothing exists in Africa until a white person observes it".
It's a scientific coup to warm the heart of any superhero fan: the first documented sightings of a black panther in Africa in almost 100 years, not far from where Marvel places the fictional setting of its Oscar-nominated "Black Panther".