How a 24-year old Samburu Warrior Captured Images of Kenya’s Black Leopard

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Letoluai Ambose, Research Assistant, Sandiego Zoo Global

The story of a black leopard being allegedly seen in Kenya for the first time in 100 years broke out this week – but a young Samburu warrior is really the silent figure behind the discovery.

“The remote camera that I helped set up started capturing images of the black leopard from January 2018. I have many images and videos of the animal,” Letoluai Ambrose, a Research Assistant with Sandiego Zoo Global told me. He seemed perturbed by the interest that the leopard has received from all over the world since last week.

Letoluai Setting up remote cameras

Letoluai, 24, grew up in Koija near Loisaba Conservation. He studied wildlife science at Kenya Wildlife Service Training Institute and returned home to support conservation efforts.

He was hired by Sandiego Zoo Global as a research assistant in a project that studied the behaviour of leopards in the Laikipia plateau. Part of this research is finding ways of mitigating the problems that leopard cause within the pastoralist communities.

During his interaction with the community, he heard about the presence of black leopards.

“At first I did not believe what they were telling me since historically we have been hearing such stories from old people,” he said.

At a later date, an elder asked him “Why don’t you capture the big black one in Lorrok area with your cameras?” He also confirmed with the owner of Lorrok ranch about the sighting.

He wrote an email to his boss and fellow scientist, Nicholas Pinfold, about the presence of the black leopard and they agreed to place trap cameras with hope of capturing images.

The activities of the black leopard started appearing in the cameras and a paper about its presence was published here.

The black leopard that has been captured since Jan 2018.

But the leopard became famous when Letoluai was requested by the owner of Lorrok Ranch to take a British photographer Will Burrad-Lucas to see the leopard. He showed the photographer where to place his remote cameras.

“Will Burrad captured quality images but the media should not state that he found the leopard. He was only here for three days,” Letoluai mused.

Letoluai states that no individual can take credit for research findings because so many people are involved in the activity.

”Were it not for that elder, the local rangers, the landowner and the involvement of scientists from Sandiego Zoo Global, we would not have made this discovery. Everyone had a role and no one person can claim credit,” said Letoluai.

Some sections of the media have claimed that this was the first time that a black leopard has been seen in Kenya in 100 years but to the contrary, the cats have been sighted many times in different parts of Kenya.

Author: John Kisimir – jkisai@gmail.com

14 Replies to “How a 24-year old Samburu Warrior Captured Images of Kenya’s Black Leopard”

  1. Thanks for bringing this out to the public,there are other Kenyans who had sighted as far as 2013 and tweeted but because they are Kenyans and maybe African at it,no one picked the same but when we have a photographer who is a foreigner then it’s a discovery,all those olden discovery expeditions Mt Kenya ,Lake Victoria,The Source etc etc yet our forefathers always used the same resources and had different names for the same only for the British and other explorers to lay claim,in my opinion #Racism exists

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  2. Appreciated reading this, all the way from western Canada no less. Some minor inconsistencies here. (I’m not taking a position or making a judgment: I’m simply saying what’s good can only be made better by making it perfect. You might want to correct.) Some name spellings appear tobe contradictory throughout. The photo caption at the top (terrific portrait shot, by the way) identifies him as Letolua Ambose, but he’s referred to throughout the post as Letoluai, with the surname Ambrose. I assume the post is correct and the photo caption(s) is/are wrong, but you might want to fix. Also, it’s Will Burrard-Lucas, not Will Burrad-Lucas as you have here. And the French word (photo caption again) is Voila!, not Viola!, which is a musical instrument and the name of a very fine African-American actress and social campaigner (Viola Davis) who’s made some terrific “prestige TV” in the US. Name spellings aside, I’m glad I saw this post, and the issues you raise, and am going to reference it on my own site. Asante sana.

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    1. So you read this piece and all you had to comment on are his spelling and grammatical errors.
      How about just praising the man’s effort and going on your way???

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  3. Ambrose is Ambrose but he often puts his names in reverse. Believe me I have been calling him Letoloia, which incidentally you have spelt wrong, for a good two years. He wasn’t in the least bit fazed and will no doubt learn to play the viola if it allows him to carry on with is good work. As my nan used to say when I said I’d found things, like old postcards, or a piece of cake, “Was it lost?” I expect the leopard has know where it is for years but it might only now know what it looks like having used the camera trap as a mirror. The early and scientific reports clearly gave clear and equal credit to Ambrose – and that is how it should be. Mutual respect and gratitude when you work as a team. There’s lot more he should take credit for too – a man to look out for in the future of Africa!

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