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Rare black leopard photographed for first time in 110 years

Baku, February 13, AZERTAC

Biologists shot rare footage of the sleek big cat walking majestically in Kenya -- the first time the animal has been photographed in Africa since 1909, said Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo, according to CNN.

Pilfold said they captured the footage after months of watching and waiting. His team of biologists had placed remote cameras to track the leopard population near a conservancy area in Laikipia County last year when they heard reports of a possible black leopard sighting.

The female leopard's coat color is pitch black as a result of melanism, a gene mutation that results in an over-production of pigment, Pilfold said. It's the opposite of albinism -- and although the leopard's coat appears black during the day, its rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery.

While there have been reports of sightings of black leopards -- also known as black panthers -- the last confirmed observation with photographic evidence was in Ethiopia more than a century ago, he said.

The footage shot by Pilfold's team includes a slew of photos and video footage of the agile animal moving in darkness, its eyes glittering in the night like two shiny marbles.

While there may be reported sightings in Kenya, black leopards are still considered rare in the continent, Pilfold said.

"Melanism occurs in about 11% of leopards globally, but most of these leopards live in South East Asia," Pilfold said. "Black leopards in Africa are extremely rare, and prior to the observations in our published paper, the last confirmed observation was 1909 in Ethiopia."

Will Burrard-Lucas, who shot the images of the black leopard, described his longtime dream to photograph the big cat.

"For me, no animal is shrouded in more mystery, no animal more elusive, and no animal more beautiful," he posted on his blog. "For many years, they remained the stuff of dreams and of farfetched stories told around the campfire at night. Nobody I knew had ever seen one in the wild and I never thought that I would either."

Burrard-Lucas said he shot the images at Laikipia Wilderness Camp using a Camtraptions Camera, which focuses on wildlife photography and footage. The cameras were placed near animal trails, and water sources such as pools and natural springs. They were left on 24 hours a day in most places but were only turned on at night in public places, according to the African Journal of Ecology.

Leopards are described as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

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