A photographer has captured a once-in-a-lifetime shot after picturing an elusive black leopard.
The big-cat was photographed slinking through the plains of Kenya in the middle of the night by Will Burrard-Lucas, 35.
Nobody has ever managed to get proper pictures of the black leopard until now and Will said the pursuit to get these shots sent his pulse racing.
He said: ‘I have never seen a high-quality image of a wild black leopard come out of Africa, even though stories of them being seen are sometimes told.
A friend of a friend saw a black leopard crossing the road early one morning.
He was in India when he heard that a black leopard had been spotted in Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya.
He said: ‘My ears pricked up and I contacted the owners Steve and Annabelle Carey to find out more. Steve confirmed that it was true and he had seen several black leopards over the years. That was enough for me and I decided to invest some time in checking it out.
Will set up a number of cameras that included motion sensors and then it was just a waiting game. After several nights – and lots of pictures of hyenas – he finally came across the pictures
He said: As I scrolled through the images on the back of the camera, I paused and peered at the photograph below in incomprehension… a pair of eyes surrounded by inky darkness… a black leopard! I couldn’t believe it and it took a few days before it sank in that I had achieved my dream.
He then monitored the leopard’s movements and gained an understanding of its behaviour. He said: ‘Over the days that followed I moved the camera traps around as I gained a deeper understanding of the leopard’s movements. The next hit I got was further down on the same game trail as the first capture. I love the way this cat melts out of the darkness!
Thereafter the black leopard disappeared and I started capturing images of a big spotty male instead – apparently he had chased away the younger black leopard. I have never been annoyed at capturing a spotty leopard on camera trap before!
I suppose at least he was rather handsome. The spotty male hung around for what felt like an age and I began to think that the black leopard might never return.
During this time I checked my cameras daily and often had images of striped and spotted hyenas as well.
Then, on the night of the full moon, the black leopard reappeared and I captured the shot below as the moon was setting behind a ridge.
Needless to say, I was thrilled that he was back and that I had captured such an atmospheric image. ‘In all the pictures I had taken, it was the leopard’s eyes that struck me first. I adjusted my lighting to darken as much of the background as possible.
Just before I left, I managed to capture one last picture… eyes in the night… ‘As far as I know, these are the first high-quality camera trap photographs of a wild melanistic leopard ever taken in Africa. I can still scarcely believe that this project – which started out as a speculative recce trip – has paid such spectacular dividends.