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Pilfold said his team of biologists had placed remote cameras to track the leopard population near a conservancy area in Laikipia County previous year when they heard reports of a possible black leopard sighting.

British photographer Will Burrard-Lucas managed to get once-in-a-lifetime images of the elusive animal, the first time anybody has secured a photo of one in almost 100 years.

He said he left his cameras outside for several nights. "All I can see is eyes", he says, smiling, "but this is a black leopard emerging from the darkness". "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", said Pilfold.

To underscore his point, Burrard-Lucas added an addendum to the blog post that started it all: "For clarification, I am not claiming that these are the first photos of a black leopard taken in Africa".

Pilford has been delighted at the fact his published research coincides with the recent boom of black panthers in pop culture, which includes Marvel's 2018 film "Black Panther".

Kenya has cemented its place as a natural tourist destination after scientists documented an extremely rare black leopard in central Laikipia County.

Black leopards are usually associated with dense forests where their dark colouration is thought to help them hide in the shadows.

Nine subspecies of leopard range across Africa and Asia, but melanistic versions of the cats are not evenly distributed between them.

"The term that makes them black is called melanism and it's the same thing that makes a house cat black, or any other cat species".

These black-coated leopards were sighted by Burrard-Lucas in Laikipia Wilderness Camp in Kenya, where he been camping since January. And on the fourth night, he was able to snap high-quality photos of a black leopard - a sight he couldn't believe that he caught with his cameras. He saw no black leopards until checking his last camera.

The animal gets its jet black coat from melanism, a gene mutation that results in the overproduction of pigment, and while the panther's coat appears pitch black during the day, rosette patterns can be seen in nighttime infrared images.

At first, he did not think that he would get any significant photographs - until he took a closer look at the images.

Kenyan conservationist Paula Kahumbu said there have been many unconfirmed sightings of black leopards, but this is the first time one has been proven.