Two eyes glow in a pool of inky darkness as a black leopard prowls through the African night.

These remarkable images captured by a British wildlife photographer offer a sighting of the rarely spotted black panther - or melanistic leopard.

Will Burrard-Lucas said he had "achieved a dream" when his camera traps produced images of black leopard in Kenya's Laikipia county last month, the Daily Telegraph reports.

Burrard-Lucas said on his blog that he began looking for the animal after speaking to locals who said they had seen a black leopard.

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After following recent tracks, he set up a series of infra-red camera traps designed to capture the elusive nocturnal beast. Despite a few frustrating nights of failure, the plan paid off - capturing images of a single female in February last year.

"I had a quick look at the last trap, not expecting to find much," Burrard-Lucas wrote on his blog. "As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at the photograph below in incomprehension," he wrote. "A pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness … a black leopard!"

Burrard-Lucas said he was not claiming to have taken the first photographs of black panthers in Africa.

Nicholas Pilfold, a conservationist from San Diego Zoo, said in an article in the African Journal of Ecology in January that his team had captured images of a black leopard in the same area in 2018.

The paper said the only previous sighting in Africa was confirmed by photography was near Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia in 1909.

The project led by Pilfold photographed the sub-adult female leopard on five occasions between February and April 2018 after hearing rumours of a black leopard in the area in 2017. All but one of the photographs were taken at night.

However, the Daily Nation, a Kenyan newspaper, challenged that claim, saying one of its photographers had succeeded in photographing a black leopard in 2013.


A black leopard was also photographed on Kenya's Lewa conservancy in the 1990s.

Melanism occurs in about 11 per cent of leopards globally, but most cases are concentrated in South East Asia.

"Black panther" is the popular name for any big cat with melanism, the recessive genetic condition that causes a black coat. In Africa and Asia, that generally refers to leopards. In Latin America, black panthers are usually jaguars.

Melanism in big cats is linked to a mutation of a signalling protein that affects pigmentation. The lone female photographed by Burrard-Lucas is probably the offspring of non-melanistic parents.

It has been hypothesised that the condition is more frequent in hot and tropical environments, although it is not entirely clear if there is an evolutionary factor at work.