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An ultra-rare black leopard - with a silky-looking, shiny coat - was spotted in Africa for the first time in more than 100 years, and the wildlife photographer who captured the elusive big cat credits the sighting simply to dumb luck.

There was only one problem: they weren't true.

The images - taken at the Laikipia Wilderness Camp - were actually the first in almost a century to document the rosette patterned-speckled coat of an African leopard, confirming the existence on the continent of the genetic mutation that makes black leopards, well, black.

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Burrard-Lucas told the news organization the black leopard could easily go undetected, as it blended into the darkness. A similar coloured animal was captured by former Nation photojournalist Phoebe Okal in 2013. Before Burrard-Lucas' efforts, researchers with the Institute of Conservation Research at San Diego Zoo Global and Kenya's Loisaba Conservancy published a study on January 29 confirming five sightings of a female black leopardess previous year in Laikipia County, Kenya.

The mythical creature was captured by British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, 35, while it was prowling around the plains of Kenya in the dead of night with a full moon looming above.

"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". Four of these observations were at night with infrared imaging, which confirmed the animal's rosette patterning. "It really became this myth that built up over time".

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Black leopards are usually associated with dense forests where their dark colouration is thought to help them hide in the shadows.

It wasn't until he visited the Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya that he finally had an opportunity to take photos of the panther.

"I'm quite used to doing camera traps and not actually achieving anything because it is such a speculative thing - you don't know if the animal you're trying to get is going to come down the trail that you've set the cameras up on".

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"I'm able to set up a kind of studio-like lighting and just leave my cameras set up for weeks or months".

Researchers at San Diego Zoo Global and Loisaba Conservancy have confirmed the presence of a rare black leopard living in Laikipia County, a first in 100 years. "I do however believe that they are the first high-quality camera trap photographs".

Although there have been reported sightings of the animal in Kenya, "black leopards in Africa are extremely rare".

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"Black leopards are iconic creatures and yet very few images of wild black leopards exist", he said.


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