Laikipia’s Black Leopards

They are the stuff of legends.

Black Panthers. An idea from the Jungle Book that many people associate only with storybooks, and few believe actually exist. Those that do know that they are out there more often than not believe them to be a species apart, when the truth is they are simply melanistic versions of a leopard or jaguar.
A recessive gene codes for a much higher production of the dark pigment melanin, and an almost black coat is the result. Leopards like this still have their normal rosettes, they are just much harder to see against the infinitely darker coat.

Photograph credit: Will Burard-Lucas

The Laikipia region in central Kenya is home to the highest diversity of mammals in Africa, and like its wildlife, the region is wild. Although it isn’t a national park, a series of private conservancies and ranches maintain its wilderness feel, and these are largely unfenced, allowing animals to roam free between the,. The whole area spans nearly a million acres and the habitat is incredibly varied. It is home to a number of threatened and unique species of mammals found only in Northern Kenya; Grevy’s zebra, Reticulated giraffe, Beisa oryx, zorilla, striped hyena, aardwolf and wild dog.

A melanistic leopard therefore, is simply the cherry on top.

It was a young individual that was first spotted by the owner of Laikipia Wilderness Camp a few years ago, and subsequent camera trap work by photographer Will Burrard-Lucas documented the animal in spectacular fashion.

Photograph credit: Will Burard-Lucas

To this point there have been reports of a number of melanistic individuals in the greater Laikipia region; an encouraging sign that the recessive gene is becoming more prevalent. However, the majority of these cats are unrelaxed; nervous of people and vehicles and very difficult to see or capture on camera.
It is around Laikipia Wilderness Camp that one has the greatest chance of experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime sighting of a black leopard, as the young female there was viewed with her mother for much of her youth, and became habituated fairly rapidly as a result.

For those adventurous enough to venture off the beaten path and explore this lesser known region of Kenya, viewing a black leopard in the wild is a very real possibility. Our strong recommendation is that you are accompanied by a private guide, to assist with photography in particular, as photographing a black animal at night with only a spotlight for light can be a tricky prospect (most of the viewing of the melanistic cat is after dark, when it feels most relaxed).

There are as couple of very experienced photographic guides that we work with, so be sure to enquire as to their availability.

If this unique experience is something you would be interested in, get in touch with us through Laikipia Wilderness Camp has limited space and is suddenly a much sought after destination with the appearance of the black panthers, seemingly out of nowhere, so don’t hesitate to start planning your safari…

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