African Black Leopard Clearly Documented for the First Time Since 1909

See caption.
A black (melanistic) leopard. Black Leopard by Gary Whyte. CC BY-SA 3.0

A friend sent me this exciting story by CNN’s Faith Karimi. It discusses the recent confirmation of a wild, black leopard in Kenya: the first such leopard documented since 1909.

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.

37 Thoughts

    1. It certainly is amazing news! Not too long ago, privileged outsiders would’ve taken credit for local people’s knowledge by claiming to “discover” the existence of black leopards in this part of Kenya. We still have a looong way to go to establish truly equitable power distributions, but it’s good that scientists and explorers are being more explicit about the fact that local people usually know about these “discoveries” first.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. And it’s not just about jaguars and leopards! I visited the Aberdares National Park in Kenya, not so far away from where the black leopard of this article was spotted. The place is stunning, it’s a mountainous rainforest and black servals have been seen there as well in the past. It’s also the place where the giant forest hog is endemic, the largest “pig” on earth – but this was not the point of the comment, just about adding a species to the melanitic serie.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. As they should be. I understand the curiosity though and I always appreciated being able to use the zoo as a teaching tool for my kids. They got to see and learn about animals they may never understand or know much about otherwise.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I think that’s why more and more zoo’s are creating habitat’s close to what these animals might have if they were in the wild and when you have animals that have never known anything else, it would be cruel to put them out. I’ve heard that some places do re-introduce certain species back into the wild but I don’t know anything about them. I remember Elsa, the lion from the film Born Free was a successful story of such an experiment. Perhaps that could be one of your reviewed films? It’s an old film but fascinating.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. In general, accredited zoos in the US are becoming more and more humane. People have different standards now about how they think animals should be treated, which is encouraging. Also, I should point out that many zoos contribute lots of money to in-the-field conservation, making them important institutions.

            I don’t know much about reintroducing animals into the wild, but I do know that it’s very hard with big cats – and carnivores in general. Once they get too used to being around people they can become dangerous to themselves and others, and predators that have lived in captivity all their lives might have a hard time learning to hunt once they’re placed in the wild. Then there’s the whole issue of territoriality…

            There are success stories, but those typically involve lots of effort and care to make sure the cats had the highest chances of long-term survival once they were released into the wild.

            I might review Born Free, but at first I’d like to focus on new films. I appreciate the suggestion, though :)

            Liked by 1 person

  2. When this story first broke the news, some ran with the rather misleading narrative that the African Black Leopard had been spotted for the first time since the 1900s. Instead of clearly stating that this is the first time its been captured on camera this clearly, irrefutably proving its existence. This sort of disregarded sighting by the local; and who knows too if in the past 100 years others havent taken photos maybe just not as clear as these, in the subsequent reports they did try to make that distinction that there had been reports of sightings over the past couple of years.
    I dont know if you saw the media storm but there was quite an outcry on the internet by particularly the Kenyans, apparently in the area it seen, sightings are not all too uncommon that one would go 100 years without seeing this elusive beast and they even have a local name for the majestic feline.

    The photographer Will Burrard-Lucas had to add the following note to his blog post to try and set the record straight:

    “For clarification, I am not claiming that these are the first photos of a black leopard taken in Africa. I do, however, believe that they are the first high-quality camera trap photographs. The headline “First in 100 years” is derived from a quote attributed to scientists from San Diego Zoo stating that my images, in combination with their video footage, constitute the first scientific documentation of such a creature in Africa in nearly a century.”


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, I hadn’t heard about that media firestorm at all. I’m not surprised though: the media’s always looking for a sensational story and some adventure-types in the West still suffer from “discoverer syndrome,” where they’re a little too eager to shout, “First!”

      I think I’ll go ahead and edit the title of this post to be a little more clear…I see that the CNN story that I summarized for this post did the same.

      Liked by 1 person

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