by Dr. Nicholas Pilfold
The last two weeks have seen worldwide coverage of the black leopards recorded on San Diego Zoo Global remote cameras in Laikipia, and has resulted in intense interest in the sighting and science behind it. As the research is ongoing, we are continuing to watch our cameras for more observations, so we can unravel some of the mystery behind these black cats, including their range and movements.
When we started our research to scientifically confirm black leopard sightings (see: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/aje.12586), we focused on a small area to the south of Loisaba Conservancy to acquire imagery. We had always had suspected that the black leopards from our study ranged across several conservancies in the area including Loisaba. And now, we have our first recordings on our remote cameras on Loisaba! It is very exciting to start to record black leopard activity at a larger scale.
There are many questions that remain about the black panthers in Laikipia. How many are there and what is their frequency in the population? Why do black leopards live here in a semi-arid environment with little dense forest for camouflage? What other advantages does being black provide to leopards that may allow this trait to persist in the population?
While some of these questions may take years to answer, finding these individuals ranging at a broader scale is a step in the right direction for our research.