In comics and movies, Marvel's Black Panther is a superhero, granted powers by the heart-shaped herb and a connection with the Panther God, Bast. In real-life, however the black panther is a real creature who has almost mythic status thanks to having not been seen in nearly 100 years. But now, the rare black panther has been spotted in Africa again -- not far from Wakanda's fictional location.
According to The New York Times, a team from the Institute for Conservation Research of the San Diego Zoo Global and the Loisaba Conservancy in Kenya has confirmed the existence of black panthers -- also known as black leopards -- in Laikipia County, north of Nairobi, Kenya.
"It is certain black panthers have been there all along, but good footage that could confirm it has always been absent until now," San Diego institute scientist Nicholas Pilfold wrote on an Instagram post.
There's good reason that "good footage" has been absent, too. Black panthers are rare to start with, with only around 11 percent of leopards worldwide having black fur. However, when it comes to black panthers in Africa, that percentage is even smaller, making them extremely rare on the continent. Black panthers -- again, leopards -- are generally found in Southeast Asia. While there have been reports of black panther sightings in Africa, the last confirmed one was in Ethiopia in 1909.
Once unconfirmed reports in Laikipia County started popping up, the research team installed eight cameras specifically around the Laikipia Wilderness Camp, taking special focus on places where a big cat might go, such as water sources and trails. The set up paid off. Between February 2018 and April 2018, a young female black leopard was captured on camera at night. In a day video, the same leopard was following an adult female with normal colorings -- presumably the black panther's mother. You can check out some of the still photos of the elusive black panther below.
As you can see in the photos, the panther isn't exactly a solid black. Even with the darker fur, leopard spotting can be seen throughout. It's the product of a recessive gene and, technically, the darker fur isn't black. It's actually a very dark brown and is believed to be an adaptation to environment, something Dr. Pilfold explained in a paper published in the African Journal of Ecology.
"Melanism is hypothesized to be an adaptation to environments in which a dark coloration provides camouflage from predators or prey," he wrote.
As for what's next, wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, who captured the camera trap still photos of the black leopard, noted in a blog post that he is heading back to Kenya, hoping to capture more images of the rare cat.
What do you think about the documentation of rare black panthers near the site of the fictional Wakanda? Let us know in the comments below.