News & Opinion | February 13, 2019 12:00 pm

Rare “Black Panther” Spotted in Africa for First Time in 100 Years

The extremely rare cat has a condition known as melanism.

black panther
A "black panther" was spotted in Kenya for the first time in nearly 100 years. (Getty Images)
Getty Images/500px

After hearing about an exceedingly rare black panther lurking around central Kenya, a biologist and his team set out to capture her on film.

Thankfully, for the rest of the nature-loving world,  Nick Pilfold’s camera traps set up around the bushlands of Loisaba Conservancy in 2018 were successful, National Geographic reported.

The leopard has a condition known as melanism, which makes the body produce an excess of pigment, turning her coat a deep, inky black. She was spotted traveling with a larger, normally colored leopard, assumed to be her mother.

“Almost everyone has a story about seeing one, it’s such a mythical thing,” Pilfold said. “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.”

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 nearly impossible to confirm. This is the first such proof caught on film in nearly a century.

As recently as 2017, only a single sighting had been confirmed—a 1909 photograph taken in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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

While 11% of leopards alive today are thought to be melanistic, most are found in Southeast Asia, where tropical forests offer an abundance of shade.