Wildlife Photographer Captures Stunning Photos Of An Incredibly Rare Black Leopard AKA A 'Black Panther'
Black Leopard Stock Photo (Getty Images), @DenicefromPA/Twitter

Wakanda forever!

That's what's going through our heads upon learning that earlier this week British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas took several high quality images of a wild melanistic leopard, also known as a black panther, while on a trip near Kenya's Laikipia Wilderness Camp, a local wildlife haven.

The black leopard is considered ultra-rare, and this one is believed to be the first of its kind on African soil in nearly 100 years.

"The biggest challenge in this project was knowing where to put my 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," Burrard-Lucas revealed in a blog post.

(In a separate interview with The Daily Mail, he revealed that photographing the elusive creature had been his dream since childhood.)

Burrard-Lucas noted that he, in collaboration with biologists from the San Diego Zoo who were working in the area, set up camera traps in an area the leopard was said to frequent.

In a video documenting his photography expedition, he recalls how he felt once he'd reviewed the images and realized he'd finally achieved his childhood dream of photographing the creature:

As far as I know none of these leopards has never been photographed properly in Africa before... So I've left the cameras for a few days and now I'm heading back to see if I've got anything...

'Scrub hare, mongoose… we have something. All I can see is eyes but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness. Look at this!

'I can't believe it really. I think when I started this project I didn't actually think I was going to be able to achieve a shot of a black leopard in Africa but that it is exactly what is here on the back of my camera. Just the most stunning, spectacular creature I think I've ever photographed!'

According to Dr. Nicholas Pilfold, a biologist with San Diego Zoo Global who worked with Burrard-Lucas in the field, the recent on-camera sightings are incredibly rare:

"We had always heard about black leopard living in this region, but the stories were absent of high quality footage that could confirm their existence. This is what Will's photos and the videos on our remote cameras now prove, and are exceptionally rare in their detail and insight.

Collectively these are the first confirmed images in nearly 100 years of black leopard in Africa, and this region is the only known spot in all of Africa to have black leopard."

Dr. Pilford also explained that most recorded sightings of black leopards had been limited to the forests of Asia and elaborated on just how rare this sighting really is:

Melanism occurs in about 11 per cent of leopards globally. However, despite African leopards having the largest remaining range out of any of the subspecies, there has only been one confirmed case of melanism prior to these images.

In addition to confirming black panthers in Africa, our observations are unique because Laikipia is a semi-arid shrubland, and previous melanistic observations come from more shaded habitats in tropical forests, which is in keeping with the understanding that melanism is an adaptation to camouflage against dark backgrounds.

We hope our future research will cast a light on why these black panthers occur here, just how many there are and how being melanistic in an unshaded environment affects their hunting strategies.

Melanism is a recessive trait in leopards, so both parents have to be carrying the gene in order for it to be expressed. Genetic research indicates melanism comes from a mutation in a gene that causes a loss of the normal function and colouration. However, although they appear solid black during the day, black panthers still have the iconic leopard rosette patterns in their coats.

The images quickly took social media by storm...

...and many wildlife enthusiasts lined up to congratulate the beaming photographer, too.

What a stunning creature!