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. "Even when you talk to the older guys that were guides in Kenya many years ago, back when hunting was legal [in the 50s and 60s], there was a known thing that you didn't hunt black leopards".
The animal - whose coat is sooty black as a result of melanism, the opposite of albinism - is extremely rare.
He used specialist equipment including wireless motion sensors, high-quality DSLR cameras and two to three flashes. "I set up my camera traps up on this trail and it was there that I captured my first image of the black leopard".
The Brit said he couldn't believe it when he returned to one of the traps one day and saw a black leopard staring back at the camera lens. "And then to get black leopards, wow, the first time I got that I was very, very happy, very surprised".
Nine subspecies of leopard range across Africa and Asia, but melanistic versions of the cats are not evenly distributed between them. "Surely I was not going to be lucky enough to actually photograph a melanistic African leopard?!"
Will Burrard-Lucas posted photos of his incredible images online after his adventure in Africa. "I never expected to get shots of one", Burrard-Lucas said, explaining that leopards are very shy and secretive.
"I couldn't believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream".
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Researchers didn't originally set up the cameras to find a black panther.
Slinking through the darkness, these stunning images show an ultra-rare black leopard in action.
"Melanism occurs in about 11 percent of leopards globally".
"By far, these are the best, most intimate images we have of a black leopard in Africa, there hasn't been anything like this before".
Pilfold's team of biologists had placed remote wildlife cameras to track the leopard population near a conservancy in the Laikipia County previous year when they heard reports of a possible black leopard sighting.
Melanism is the opposite of albinism and although leopards affected by the genetic condition have been reported in and around Kenya for decades, a scientific confirmation of their existence has been almost impossible to confirm.
Pilford has been delighted at the fact his published research coincides with the recent boom of black panthers in pop culture, which includes Marvel's 2018 film "Black Panther".