Giza - The Black Leopard


Discovery of Giza: A Rare Encounter

Giza - The Black Leopard. A privately guided safari from Wandering Thru

The enigmatic black leopard named Giza (which means “darkness” in Swahili) remained a mystery until recently. While locals in the regions around Laikipia often talked about it, scientific documentation of these elusive creatures in Africa had been sparse for over a century. The last confirmed sighting near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia dated back to 1909. This lack of evidence left many experts doubtful about the existence of black leopards in Africa.

Photographer Will Burrard-Lucas, intrigued by the rumors of Giza’s presence, decided to investigate. Despite the lack of solid proof, he couldn’t resist the potential discovery. In 2019, he traveled to Kenya, determined to uncover the secrets of the elusive black leopard.

With camera traps and unwavering determination, Will Burrard-Lucas set out on an expedition. His patience and persistence paid off when, after several weeks, the first camera trap images of Giza were successfully captured.

These stunning images provided irrefutable proof of the black leopard’s existence in the region and marked a significant moment in the annals of wildlife documentation.

Exploring the Black Leopard and Melanism:

Giza - The Black Leopard. A privately guided safari from Wandering Thru

However, a black leopard, also known as a black panther, is not a distinct species. Giza and others like her are a striking variant of the more common “spotted” leopard (Panthera pardus). The captivating black coat of Giza is due to a genetic phenomenon called melanism. Unlike albinism, which results in a lack of pigmentation, melanism involves an excessive production of dark pigments, specifically melanin, in the skin, fur, and other body parts. This surplus of melanin creates the alluring appearance of the black leopard.

Black leopards and jaguars are often referred to as “panthers.” However, “panther” doesn’t denote a separate species but is a general term used for any big cat with an ebony-colored coat.

Understanding the Genetic Condition:

Giza - The Black Leopard. A privately guided safari from Wandering Thru

Melanism is a recessive genetic trait, which means that both parents must carry and pass on the gene for melanism to manifest in their offspring. In the case of black leopards, this genetic condition arises from a specific mutation of the leopard’s gene responsible for coat coloration. This genetic anomaly leads to an increased production of eumelanin, a type of melanin responsible for black pigmentation. Interestingly, Giza’s mother is a standard spotted leopard, while her father is believed to be a melanistic one. For Giza to be the way she is both her mother and her father carry the melanistic mutation.

The Rarity of Black Leopards:

Encountering a black leopard in the wild is an extraordinarily rare event. Experts estimate that melanistic leopards account for only about 11% of the total leopard population in the wild (Hunter, L., Henschel, P., Ray, J. et al. “The Taxonomic Status of the Leopard, Panthera pardus (Carnivora: Felidae) in Sub-Saharan Africa). The dense forests of Laikipia in Kenya provide the perfect habitat for these elusive creatures to thrive, and it is here that Giza has found her home.

Conservation Importance:

Giza - The Black Leopard. A privately guided safari from Wandering Thru

Giza’s emergence from the shadows rekindled the world’s fascination with the captivating world of melanistic leopards. Her presence symbolizes hope, emphasizing the ongoing need to safeguard the fragile ecosystems that sustain these incredible animals.

More importantly he discovery of Giza not only brought validation to the stories of locals but also kindled a renewed interest in researching and conserving these rare and elusive creatures. It was a testament to the importance of listening to local knowledge and respecting the wisdom passed down through generations.

By familiarizing herself with Laikipia Wilderness camp and engaging in responsible and ethical tourism activities, Giza has become more accustomed to human game-viewing. This has made it possible to observe her during the daytime as well. Her habituated nature has offered our guests a fantastic opportunity to admire, learn and photograph this striking individual during our Privately Guided Black Leopard Safaris of 2023 with private guide Tristan Dicks – our leopard nutter.

If you’re looking to embark on your journey to Laikipia, and encounter one of nature’s most captivating secrets, contact us today.

To secure your best African Safari, contact Wandering Thru without delay. 

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