In early 2018, a black leopard was caught on camera in Kenya by biologist Nick Pilfold. Though the big cat’s existence was merely a rumor at the time, Pilfold and his team deployed a set of camera traps throughout the bushland of Loisaba Conservancy. Before long, they captured undeniable proof of the rare melanistic leopard.
As National Geographic reported, it is incredibly rare for a leopard to be born with melanism. The opposite of albinism, melanism is the result of a gene that causes an excess of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal. As a result, it appears black. Images of the rare, black leopard were published in January, in the African Journal of Ecology.
Though sightings are rare, several have been reported in the past few decades. Pilfold is, however, the first to have provided evidence in 100 years. Previously, the only sighting ever confirmed was way back in 1909. The image was snapped in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and is stored in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Black leopards have reportedly been spotted in and around Kenya for decades, but photographic proof remains quite rare https://t.co/FQWMA1YwZ1
— National Geographic (@NatGeo) February 12, 2019
“Almost everyone has a story about seeing one, it’s such a mythical thing. Even when you talk to the older guys that were guides in Kenya many years ago, back when hunting was legal [in the 1950s and ‘60s], there was a known thing that you didn’t hunt black leopards. If you saw them, you didn’t take it.”
It is a curious coincidence that the fictional country of Wakanda, home of Marvel superhero Black Panther, is located in East Africa, fairly close to Kenya. “It’s a unique coincidence,” he said. “The only place where we have black leopards is where this place in the Marvel Universe appears to exist.”
Over the past century, the leopards’ range has decreased by 66 percent, due to habitat loss and prey decline. With the recent sighting, perhaps the public will feel more compelled to support conservation efforts and protect African wildlife.
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Source: National Geographic
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