The Magic and Myth of the Black Leopards – Why and Where!

Black leopards

The Leopard (Panthera pardus), known as ‘one of the big cats’ is a member of the ‘Big 5’ group of mammals. Extremely elusive, a leopard is rare to see on a game drive due to its shy nature and excellent camouflage from their golden-yellow fur with dark spots/rosettes, they blend in perfectly to their natural habitat.

As special as it is to see a leopard on a game drive, it’s an extra special game drive if you come across a melanistic leopard. So rare, only as recently as 2018 did a camera trap set on Loisaba Conservancy get a recording of a black leopard. 2019, saw the first ever high-quality imagery appear, again from a night time camera trap. Only in the last few years have they been photographed in person.

Melanistic leopards are commonly known as ‘Black Leopards’ or ‘Black Panthers’. Leopards and Jaguars (in SouthAmerica  ) are the only big cats that commonly exhibit melanism. Bagheera, the fictional character in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, is a Black Panther, aka a melanistic leopard!

The smaller cousin of the Leopard , the Serval  also exhibits melanism. Often found at high altitudes. Does the dark colour increase body warmth in these colder climes?

Melanism is a genetic condition that results in an increased production of dark pigments, giving the leopard a predominantly black or very dark appearance. With melanistic leopards, the underlying pattern of rosettes typical of leopards is still present, but due to the dark coloration, these markings can be challenging to distinguish. This adaptation provides melanistic leopards with a unique form of camouflage in their natural habitats, which are often dense and shadowy environments, perfect for forested areas with high density shrub environments.

Leopards can be found over much of Kenya, however these rare ‘black leopards’ have only been seen in specific areas of the country. Laikipia in central Kenya, has recorded sightings of these mysterious creatures, the region boasts diverse landscapes, ranging from grasslands to forests and riverine ecosystems.

The densely forested Aberdare Mts Range is another example where the ‘black leopards’ are known to survive. This park has a range of habitats, including mountainous terrain, river gorges and dense forests, providing suitable conditions for leopards.

A safari to see a black leopard would take dedication and patience but a magic moment to see such an elusive and mythical creature is a truly iconic experience


Let us take you there to seek the cryptic Black Panther.




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