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.