Where to find the world's most secretive big cat

Black leopards, ghosts in the darkness, are exceptionally rare, almost impossible to find in the wild. But recently, with thanks to expect guiding and community led conservation, it’s now possible to significantly increase your chances of seeing these beautiful, elusive big cats in their natural habitat in Kenya.

What is a black leopard?

The black leopard, also known as a black panther, is a melanistic variation of the better-known spotty variety, which means they have an excess of black pigmentation that makes their coats much darker. Melanistic leopards still have spots (which aren’t actually spots, but rosettes), but these distinctive markings can be harder to see on the darkest of these leopards, making them appear completely black. It’s unknown how many black panthers there are in the wild (these include melanistic jaguars and melanistic leopards) but sightings have been recorded in Sri Lanka, South Africa, Kenya, Nepal, Thailand, Costa Rica, Panama, Paraguay and a few other destinations.


A black leopard in Laikipia, Kenya photographed by Dan Peel

Black leopard sightings in Kenya

In 2019 scientists from the San Diego Zoo confirmed the first sighting of a black leopard in Laikipia, Kenya. Leopards, much like domestic cats, quickly become habituated to their environment and so, over time, this leopard became increasingly comfortable with humans and sightings became a little more frequent. Riding the confirmation of this sighting, award-winning photographer Will Burrard-Lucas dedicated six months to his pursuit of capturing this black leopard and this area soon rose to fame when he published his incredible images.

Black leopard x Will Burrard-Lucas

Black leopard x Will Burrard-Lucas

Black leopard x Will Burrard-Lucas

Black leopard x Will Burrard-Lucas

To date, there are now five known black leopards frequenting the Laikipia region of Kenya. At Laikipia Wilderness Camp, a female who has become very used to human settlement has made her home in the rocky outcrops around the camp and she is seen or heard almost daily. Black leopard sightings are now increasing at an astounding rate as these incredible big cats begin to feel more at home in the area. Watch this incredible footage from Will Burrard-Lucas's phone and this, most recent clip from Laikipia Wilderness, of a leopard chasing a black leopard off a kill from a Boscia tree, and it lands just a stone’s throw away from a guest vehicle.

How to see a black leopard in Kenya

Leopard sightings are incredibly rare, and black leopard sightings, until recently, nearly impossible. But to up your chances we recommend a few nights at Laikipia Wilderness Camp, with a private vehicle and guide (exclusive use of a vehicle is vital if you’re dedicated to your search). Laikpia Wilderness Camp is a family-owned, no-fuss bush camp an hour and a half drive from Nanyuki town in Laikipia, central Kenya. Its six tents enjoy uninterrupted wilderness views, open air ensuite bathrooms and a central communal area which has power for charging equipment, a comfortable lounge and dining space. With expert guiding and no off-roading or activity restrictions, Laikipia Wilderness is an ideal destination for anyone looking for an authentic, off-the-beaten-track safari experience. This is also the best place in Kenya to track and photograph African wild dogs on foot! With fewer than 6,000 African wild dogs left in the wild, this experience, together with the chance of seeing the elusive black leopard make it an incredibly unique destination.

More about Laikipia Wilderness

Spacious tents at Laikipia Wilderness Camp & Tracking wild dog on foot


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