One photographer’s quest to photograph the rarest cat in Africa – the Black Panther

Feb 11, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

One photographer’s quest to photograph the rarest cat in Africa – the Black Panther

Feb 11, 2019

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The black panther has been one of the most iconic creatures the world has ever known. They have such beauty and power, yet are extremely rare to find in the natural world. There had been rumours that at least one was living in the Laikipia region of Kenya, but without any high-quality footage or photographs, confirming their existence was impossible.

This led British wildlife photographer, Will Burrard-Lucas on a mission to Africa, to finally capture the majestic big cat on camera in Laikipia Wilderness Camp. To do so, he used several camera traps from Camtraptions. And eventually, his patience and perseverance paid off, capturing some absolutely stunning photographs of wild black panthers.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncHaQ_jG9Xs

The most difficult part about photographing these animals, or any animals, really, but especially so with animals so rare, is finding out where they’re going to be. You have to set your cameras up in advance, and then just hope the animals come past. You can take a little guesswork out of the equation by knowing the animal’s habits, and studying evidence of previous visits to the area by a certain species, but there’s still a lot of luck involved much of the time.

Where Will set up his camera traps, he felt quite confident that leopards had been through the area before, but he didn’t know if they’d be the elusive black version, or just the regular spotted leopards – which are still very beautiful animals, but not what he’s looking for.

The camera traps Will used were based around Camtraptions wireless PIR, hooked up to DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Each of these was then wirelessly connected to several speedlights. When an animal tripped a sensor, the camera and flashes for that sensor would fire, capturing a lit image of the scene.

Will set up several such traps around a particular area and then left them to do their thing undisturbed so that wildlife could move about the environment as they normally would.

Upon returning to the traps to see what they had found, he spotted a few of the usual creatures, such as the mongoose, and regular leopards, of course…

But then, there it was, the black panther emerging from the darkness.

The lead researcher for a leopard conservation programme in Laikipia County and scientist at San Diego Zoo Global, Nicholas Pilfold PhD, says that “collectively these are the first images in nearly 100 years of black leopard in Africa, and this region is the only known spot in all of Africa to have black leopard”.

So, I’ll bet Will’s very pleased with the results he’s managed to achieve.

As well as the video above, you can find out more about Will’s adventure to capture the black panthers on camera, and see some more of the photographs he created over on his website. And don’t forget to check out the Camtraptions Camera Trap he used to capture them. They’re certainly a few steps up from the usual “trail cams” we often see used to capture wildlife.

If somebody ever told me I could have one of these beautiful creatures, it might finally convince me to get a cat. But I know that can never happen. I’ve thought they were amazing since I was a little kid, but I’ve only ever seen one black panther in real life and that was at Chester Zoo. What I wouldn’t give to see them in the wild.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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8 responses to “One photographer’s quest to photograph the rarest cat in Africa – the Black Panther”

  1. Brenda Jamieson Avatar
    Brenda Jamieson

    Is it a black panther, which has no spots or a black leopard which has markings. The panther found in S. America and the leopard Africa.

    1. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      “Leopards that are melanistic, either completely black or very dark in coloration, are one of the big cats known colloquially as black panthers. This isn’t a different species”

      https://wildcatsmagazine.nl/wild-cats/panther-or-leopard-panthera-pardus/

    2. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      “A black panther is the melanistic color variant of any big cat species. Black panthers in Asia and Africa are leopards (Panthera pardus), and those in the Americas are black jaguars (Panthera onca).”

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_panther

    3. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      One is a leopard, the other is a jaguar. Both are “Black Panthers”. :)

    4. Brenda Jamieson Avatar
      Brenda Jamieson

      So beautiful whatever they are, and leopards too but as pets, wonder how much it will cost to feed one. And exercise one, and where will it sleep. Best they stay where they are as all wild animals should.

    5. Brenda Jamieson Avatar
      Brenda Jamieson

      I went to Chester zoo, they have one of each, they walked out of their shelter and disappeared in the bushes, couldn’t see them again.

      1. Asif Dewan Avatar
        Asif Dewan

        Aaww really it’s so lovely black cat ? , I would like to see

  2. Brett Thompson Avatar
    Brett Thompson

    Kenya is not the only area where they can be found. For 12 years back in the late 80s and 90s, I was a member of a mobile health team who traveled into the deepest jungles in The Congo to offer aid to remote primitive tribes, sometimes greeted with hostility, sometimes skepticism, sometimes welcome. It was in one of these latter tribal villages, which we had been visiting every month, that we were present when a tragedy occured. As we all sat around a fire one night, one of the men suddenly jumped up and ran toward a toddler who was playing at the edge of light. None of us saw the black panther until it was on the man, who had obviously seen it in the shadows readying to attack the boy. They man, only 22, jumped between them. By the time the villagers were able to spear the cat to death, the man was dead. The child, the target of the panther, was thankfully saved by this young man’s brave and selfless act.
    So, black panthers can be found in Southern Africa.