Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas has taken what are likely the best images of an African black leopard ever recorded. The elusive animal is rarely seen in the wild, and it's been captured on film even less often. Now photographs of the big cat are circulating around the world.
As The Guardian reports, the leopard's black fur, still patterned with the species's signature spots, is the result of a rare genetic disorder called melanism. An African black leopard was first photographed in 1909 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and though there have been sightings, no confirmed pictures of the animal have been taken since.
Burrard-Lucas, a wildlife photographer based in London, set out to become the first person to document a black leopard in a century when he heard reports of one in the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya. Based on eyewitness accounts from locals and animal tracks, he found a spot to set up a Camtraptions Camera Trap in the park. If an animal, like a black leopard, passed through the area at night, wireless motion sensors would trigger the camera and snap a picture.
The trap was active for several nights before it finally captured the photos of a lifetime. The pictures show a black leopard staring down the camera and skulking under a full moon, and in each image its unique, mottled coat is fully visible. Burrard-Lucas also recorded clear footage of the leopard prowling around the Laikipia Wilderness Camp at night.
Like albinism, melanism is a rare mutation that results in abnormal pigmentation (in the case of melanism, there's an overabundance of melanin rather than too little). Most leopards with melanism live in Southeast Asia, making the photographs taken in Africa even more remarkable.
[h/t The Guardian]