Daily Nation photojournalist Phoebe Okall has disputed claims that photos of rare African black panther (black leopard) shot by Nick Pilfold, a global conservation scientist at the San Diego Zoo, were the first since 1909.
Pilfold claims that they shot a photos of the rare animal in Africa for the first time since 1909, but Ms Okall claims that she shot it in 2013 in Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy while in official assignment.
According to reports by CNN, Pilfold and his team set their cameras in Laikipia after getting reports of the existence of the cat in Kenya.
“We intensified our camera placement in the area the reports were being made. Within a few months, we were rewarded with multiple observations on our cameras,” he told CNN.
Although the leopard’s coat appears black during the day, its rosette patterns are visible in nighttime infrared imagery. This is as a result of melanism, a gene mutation that results in an over-production of pigment, the opposite of albinism.
“It is likely that black leopards have been living in Kenya all along, it is only that high quality imagery to confirm it has been missing until now,” Pilfold said.
The footage shot by Pilfold’s team includes a slew of photos and video footage of the agile animal moving in darkness, its eyes glittering in the night like two shiny marbles.
“Melanism occurs in about 11 per cent of leopards globally, but most of these leopards live in South East Asia. Black leopards in Africa are extremely rare, and prior to the observations in our published paper, the last confirmed observation was 1909 in Ethiopia,” added Pilfold.
Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu said there have been many unconfirmed sightings of black leopards, but this is the first time one has been proven.
“Despite many challenges in the sector, Kenya’s wildlife continues to awe and inspire the world. I hope that this rare find persuades the authorities that we must balance conservation with development to protect our spectacular and mysterious species,” said Kahumbu as quoted by CNN.