A set of high-quality camera trap photos featuring Africa’s black panther, captured by photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, has quickly gained the attention of the internet for their captivating and intimate visuals.

The photos left even Black Panther actress Lupita Nyong’o feeling excited. She tweeted, “Actual #BlackPanther siting [sic] in Kenya. Unreal!”

After hearing about Kenya’s black panther, biologist Nick Pilfold put together a team comprising researchers from the San Diego Zoo and Burrard-Lucas to study the animal in greater detail.

The team established camera traps, personally designed by Burrard-Lucas, throughout the Loisaba Conservancy in early 2018. They managed to capture high quality footage of a juvenile melanistic female leopard, otherwise known as a black panther.

Melanism, the opposite of albinism, is a genetic mutation that results in a surplus of pigment in an animal’s skin or hair that causes it to turn black.

The photos, which were published in the African Journal of Ecology on 29 January 2019, signify the first scientific documentation of such an animal in Africa in almost 100 years, according to the National Geographic.

It should be noted that this is not the first sighting or photographs of the black panther in Africa in nearly a century.

Burrard-Lucas further clarified this on Twitter by after Kenyan photojournalist Boniface Mwangi, along with other Kenyans, came forth to address a growing number of misleading news headlines.

“It’s important we say this, @willbl took amazing, never seen before images of a #blackpanther. Kenyans living in areas with wildlife population have spotted black Leopards many times (we coexist with wildlife). The white media claim of first sighting in 100 years is pure nonsense,” tweeted Mwangi.

Burrard-Lucas responded, “Thank you. I agree many headlines are inaccurate. I never claimed mine were the first photos in 100 years as explained in the update at the bottom of my blog post.”

Mwangi also highlighted that photographer Phoebe Okall of Daily Nation, a major Kenyan independent newspaper, had snapped an image of a black leopard in the Ol Jogi Wildlife Conservancy in 2013.

According to Pilfold, about 11 percent of existing leopards are melanistic, though majority are found in Southeast Asia. He expressed his amusement that coincidentally, the fictional country of ‘Wakanda’, which is home to Marvel Comics’ superhero ‘Black Panther’, is also located fairly close to Kenya and “not that far away from our study area.”

See the photos captured by Burrard-Lucas below.

[via National Geographic and Channel NewsAsia, main image via Black Panther]

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