In January 2019, British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas photographed a black leopard in Kenya – the first scientific documentation of such a creature in Africa in nearly a century.
“Since childhood I have been fascinated by stories of black panthers,” says Will. “For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal is more elusive, and no animal is more beautiful. For many years they remained the stuff of dreams and of far-fetched stories told around the campfire at night. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either. That is, until some friends told me that a black leopard had been seen at Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya. I decided to check it out and deployed a plethora of camera traps. After leaving them for several nights, I returned to find that I’d captured lots of pictures of hyenas but no leopards. Then 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 opposite 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.”
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See the moment Will discovered he’d captured his first image of a black leopard in this video:
So what exactly is a black panther? It’s a species of big cat with black fur, right? Well, no, not exactly. Despite this commonly held belief, the term ‘black panther’ doesn’t actually refer to a distinct species at all. It’s an umbrella term for any big cat with an all-black coat.
In Asia and Africa, it mostly refers to black leopards but in the Americas, it usually means a black jaguar. Leopards and jaguars are separate species, but both can be black panthers…
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