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Elusive ‘black panther’ alive and well in Kenya, study shows

14 February, 2019, 08:11 | Author: Taylor George
  • Melanistic leopard

"The opposite of albinism, melanism is the result of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal so that it appears black".

The black leopard, which gets it's distintive colour from the creation of excess melanin, is extremely rare, so photographer Will Burrard-Lucas really hit the jackpot.

Pilford's team worked in parallel with photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, who used his personally-designed Camtraptions camera trap to capture images of the same leopards in the region, and released them alongside the study.

The creature - of nearly mythical status - was captured on film by Kenya-based biologist Nick Pilfold using specialist equipment including wireless motion sensors and high-quality DSLR cameras. All I can see is eyes but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness.

"If you saw them, you didn't take it", says Dr. Nicholas Pilfold who serves at the San Diego Zoo Global as a Scientist in Population Sustainability. And on the fourth night, he was able to snap high-quality photos of a black leopard - a sight he couldn't believe that he caught with his cameras. In early 2018, they were able to spot the mysterious black leopard, estimated to be a 2-year-old female, at least five times - February 16, Feb. 28, March 11, March 15 and April 14 - five different locations.

"We conclude that melanism in leopards is strongly affected by natural selection, likely driven by efficacy of camouflage and/or thermoregulation in different habitats, along with an effect of moisture that goes beyond its influence on vegetation type", the authors wrote. Typically in Africa and Asia that would mean a melanistic leopard - a black leopard.

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It is the first time that a sighting of the stunning creature has been confirmed since 1909.

He marveled at the coincidence of the location of an animal that's also called the black panther, the title of one of last year's biggest movies.

"Thereafter the black leopard disappeared and I started capturing images of a big spotty male instead - apparently he had chased away the younger black leopard".

At first, he did not think that he would get any significant photographs - until he took a closer look at the images.

Pilford said most recorded sightings of black leopards have been spotted in Asian forests. That's when he made a decision to head to Africa himself, and set up several covert remote cameras by Camtraptions Camera Trap overnight at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, near where the San Diego Zoo researchers had confirmed the evasive predator's existence. In Latin America, black panthers are usually jaguars.

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