Another rare black Leopard spotted in Laikipia, Kenya

Wednesday February 13 2019

This black leopard, called Bagheera, was spotted at Ol-Jogi Game Reserve in Laikipia on August 27, 2013. A similar panther was documented near Loisaba Conservancy in 2018. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NMG

By Wanjohi Githae

Kenya has cemented its place as a natural tourist destination after scientists documented an extremely rare black leopard in central Laikipia County.

The black leopard was spotted near Loisaba Conservancy by biologist Nick Pilfold.

This is the second black panther to be spotted in Laikipia after a similar discovery was recorded by then Nation photojournalist Phoebe Okall in 2013 at Ol Jogi Conservancy.

According to the National Geographic the black leopard captured by Mr Pilfold in 2018 has melanism and the last such sighting was in 1909.

“The opposite of albinism, melanism is the result of a gene that causes a surplus of pigment in the skin or hair of an animal so that it appears black.

Melanistic leopards have been reported in and around Kenya for decades, but scientific confirmation of their existence remains quite rare,” states National Geographic on their website.


The Kenya-based biologist and his team deployed a set of camera traps throughout the bushlands of Loisaba Conservancy in early 2018.

It wasn't long before he got what he was looking for: undeniable proof of a super-rare melanistic leopard.

The juvenile female was spotted traveling with a larger, normally coloured leopard, presumed to be her mother. 

National Geographic states the 1909 photograph was taken in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and stored in the collections of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

9 species

Their range, across much of the continent has shrunk by at least 66 per cent due to habitat loss and prey decline.

"Almost everyone has a story about seeing one, it's such a mythical thing," says Mr Pilfold, of San Diego Zoo Global's Institute for Conservation Research.

"Even when you talk to the older guys that were guides in Kenya many years ago, back when hunting was legal [in the 1950s and ‘60s], there was a known thing that you didn't hunt black leopards. If you saw them, you didn't take it."

National Geographic adds that there are nine leopard subspecies ranging from Africa all the way to eastern Russia.

And while 11 per cent of leopards alive today are thought to be melanistic, says Pilfold, most are found in Southeast Asia, where tropical forests offer an abundance of shade.

It’s thought that melanism provides additional camouflage in those habitats, giving the predators an advantage when it comes to hunting, says Vincent Naude, leopard genetic forensics project coordinator for the nonprofit Panthera, who was not involved with this research.

The fact the young female was traveling with her mother also suggests that her unique coloration hasn't had an impact on familial bonding, Mr Pilfold notes.