In Laikipia, Kenya, on the 11th of February 11, Will captured a series of high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard (otherwise known as a black panther). This was the first time the animal has been photographed in Africa since 1909, said Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo.
The female leopard’s coat is pitch black due to melanism, a gene mutation that results in an over-production of pigment, Pilfold added. It’s the opposite of albinism. And although the leopard’s rocking a black coat during the day, its rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery.
“The images were captured at Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, using [self-made] Camtraptions camera traps,” Burrard-Lucas told. “Each trap is made up of a Camtraptions motion sensor, which wirelessly triggers a high-quality DSLR or mirrorless camera and two or three flashes. I leave these cameras on game paths for days or even weeks at a time in order to photograph elusive animals. The technique also allows me to set up studio-like lighting in order to capture striking images of animals at night.”
The biggest challenge for the photographer was deciding where to put his camera traps. “When I heard that a black leopard had been seen up at Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya my ears pricked up and I contacted the owners, Steve and Annabelle Carey, to find out more.”
“Steve confirmed that it was true and he had seen several black leopards over the years. On arrival in Laikipia, Steve took me to meet Luisa Ancilotto who lived close to the camp and had seen a black leopard recently. She told us as much as she knew about the leopard’s habits and territory.”
“Then Steve managed to pick up some fresh leopard tracks nearby and followed them to a path that leopards seemed to be using. I set up my camera traps up on this trail and it was there that I captured my first image of the black leopard.”