Black leopards are simply leopards (Panthera pardus) that have a rare genetic sequence that leads them to produce more pigment than their yellowish brethren. Scientists call this genetic trait melanism; and, hence, black leopards are dubbed melanistic. Jaguars (Panthera onca) can also be melanistic, along with jaguarundis. Melanistic leopards and jaguars still have their rosettes, or spots, but they’re harder to see.
Experts claim that about 11% of the world’s leopard population is melanistic, according to the CNN article, but most of those black leopards live in Southeast Asia. A melanistic African leopard is exceedingly rare, and it’s wonderful that conservation scientist Nick Pilfold’s team was able to photograph one. Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas captured the images using a remote-activated camera trap: an indispensable tool for conservation.
However, I must point out that local people deserve the credit for “discovering” this melanistic leopard. Kenyans have long reported sightings of black leopards, but this is the first time one has been confirmed with clear photographs.
For more information, please read Ms. Karimi’s original story.