In early 2019 pictures of Black Leopards aka Black Panthers started to appear on social media platforms which showed images taken by scientist & wildlife photographers using camera traps. Very few people have actually seen these rare & shy cats leave alone photographing them using regular cameras.
It seemed while this was happening in Kenya a few years ago in India’s Kabini Forest the appearance of a Black Panther named Saya became an internet sensation overnight with nature lovers & wildlife photographers around the world. These melastic cats are found in different parts of the world. They are not a different species but a mutation of their genes with over production of darker pigmentation (melanin) giving them the dark velvety coats.
Melanistic cats are found in different species like Serval Cat, Leopards & even Jaguars. I also remember seeing a documentary produced by the BBC that was filming in the Aberdare National Park many years where they captured a scene with a Black Leopard & even a Black Serval in the moorlands. They are so rare & mystical. I have always hoped to see these “super natural” cats in the wild as they have a different aura & mysticism about them.
I didn’t know this would come to be true in late 2021. I had a very rough year having lost my job due to the pandemic, my grandfather & my father all within 3.5 months of each other. In December, I planned a trip to Loisaba Conservancy in Laikipia county, north of Kenya for some alone time & to immerse myself in nature to help me with the grieving process as well.
There were reports of a Black Leopard having been seen in this conservancy a few months prior and I was keen to try my luck but not make it my entire focus of the trip knowing that these cats are very elusive. I even remember my guide Brown asking me what are your expectations of the safari and I jokingly said “I would love to see the real panther” where he responded “Only really lucky people see him!” Best things happen when you manage your expectations. Always go with the flow if possible.
The Conservancy is also known as the Land of Leopards with its exceptional sighting of these enigmatic cats who are always on the top of the list for all safari goers.
As fate would have it on our 4th drive early in the morning we kept driving around his favourite haunts as the morning light was just peeking, Brown shouts with excitement I think that’s him sleeping up high on the ridge! I hastily picked my binoculars and sure enough it was him! I remember shaking in pure excitement, pinching myself as I was not sure if it was real or my mind playing tricks as I had been seeing him at every corner, every rocky outcrop & tree before this very moment in my mind!
The Holy Grail, the Ghost, the Myth, the Legend, The Black Lord call him what you want but he has been named “LOCHAMI” by the local guides & researchers in the area.
He is a beautiful male Leopard in his prime and having seen him in his natural habitat was a dream come true. But the fact that I was all alone with just my guide Brown & this cat, away from mass tourism, dozens of cars was such a privilege & blessing. I will never forget this sighting & feeling, that’s for sure!
There are now reports of 2 Black Leopards (one is definitely a female) in that region up north that have also been spotted so chances are we may have more panthers in that ecosystem.
I didn’t get the best pictures with the camera as this cat was high up a rocky ridge but just watching him with my binos looking around was beyond magical. I know as photographers we always want to be the first to capture something unique or get the best images! I was just so happy to be in his presence & enjoy being in the moment with the Real Black Panther!
My prayers are that he remains safe, lives a long life & spreads his genes with his kind in this stellar conservancy in Kenya.
The entire sighting lasted some 40 odd minutes from the time Brown spotted him to the time he melted back into the vegetation & shadows in the ridge. I hope to return to Loisaba and hopefully see him and probably the next generation of melanistic leopards.
Here are some pictures of Lochami that I managed to capture during this brief sighting. A big thanks to Loisaba Conservancy, Elewana’s Lodo Springs for accommodating me, my eagle eyed guide Brown & of course the main star, the Real Black Panther – Lochami. Hope to go back to try my LUCK again in the near future!