For the first time in nearly 100 years, a black panther (also called black leopard) has been spotted and photographed on the African continent.
Black leopards are more commonly found in Southeast Asia, and though there have been a few reported sightings of the species in Africa, only one was confirmed in Ethiopia in 1909.
A research team from the Institute for Conservation Research of San Diego Zoo Global and the Loisaba Conservancy in Kenya spotted the cat in Laikipia County, just north of Nairobi, Kenya.
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From February to April 2018, cameras installed by the research team around the Laikipia Wilderness Camp captured footage of a young female black leopard, appearing in four evening videos drinking from artificial water sources or carrying preys.
After news of the photographs spread, another image of a black panther from Ol Ari Nyiro Conservancy in Laikipia, taken in May 2007 emerged. The 2007 and 2018 images are the first confirmed sightings in nearly 100 years.
According to Nicholas Pilfold, a biologist at the San Diego institute, “Black leopards are uncommon, only about 11 percent of leopards globally are black. But black leopards in Africa are extremely rare.”
According to the San Diego Zoo Global, the black leopards’ unique coat is due to a condition called melanism, a gene mutation that makes the coat appear completely black at nighttime. In the light, the coat is actually dark brown and the leopard’s patterned spots are visible. Another theory brought forth with the findings published in the African Journal of Ecology in January is that melanism could be the result of an adaptation to the environment in which the species evolves to provide camouflage from predators or prey.
Leopards (Panthera pardus) are a threatened species that are listed as vulnerable animals on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
H/T: The New York Times