Exclusive: KB interviews Ambrose Letoluai

Article by Jacqueline
Posted: February 15, 2019

This past week, #blackpanther was trending on the interwebs.  It wasn’t about the hit Marvel Movie from last year or the political movement from the 60s. It was about a big, magnificent black cat. A leopard with a rare genetic mutation known as Melanism that makes it’s coat appear completely black. With infrared imagery, the leopard’s rosette patterns can be seen at night.

San Diego Zoo Global researchers recently filmed this cool cat in Lorok, Laikipia County. The images went viral and main stream media claimed that the leopard hasn’t been spotted in a century. There was also subliminal ‘columbusing‘ being perpetuated by certain conservationists and media houses.

There wasn’t this much hype In 2013,  when Nation Media Group photojournalist Phoebe Okall, photographed the animal at Ol Jogi Conservancy.

Quiet as it’s kept, Ambrose Letoluai, a young Samburu warrior and a research assistant with Sandiego Zoo Global was instrumental in capturing these viral images.

He lets us in on his cool name,  ‘behind-the-scenes’ the work he did to make it possible and all the amazing conservation work he does.

KB: Letoluai, that’s a really cool name. What does it mean?

It’s a family name that directly translates to ‘Cross’.

KB: Tell us what your job at Sandiego Zoo Global entails

I am responsible for collecting data and setting cameras including those that captured the now famous black leopard.

KB: Did you always want to work in wildlife conservation?

When I was in high school at Doldol boys, I was an environmental club leader. I’ve always had an affinity for wildlife protection growing up.

KB: What’s the most exciting part of your Job?

I really love setting up the camera equipment to capture videos and images of the animals at night. That’s how we caught footage of the black leopard. Another exciting part of my job is visiting the local communities living around the conservancies and having the kids help us with checking the cameras around the bomas .That’s really kind of them.

KB: Were there reports from the local community of sighting the black leopard before it became an internet sensation?

They’ve been numerous stories over the years  about black leopard sightings especially in Mount Kenya, Abadare,  all through Laikipia Planteu even in Kirisia forest in Northern Kenya. They are a rare but not elusive.

KB: It’s like everyone’s giving Will Burrad credit for capturing images of this rare black cat. State the record straight, what happened behind the scenes?

There’s a lot that went into capturing those images. It all started out when we visited the local communities around Losaba conservancy to collect data on human-wildlife conflict. During this time, the locals mentioned spotting the black Leopard. So through concerted effort with the people, land owners and rangers, we were able to set up the cameras and months later, got the images.

Will Burrad is a great photographer.  I just wish he had credited all the people that put in a lot of work into making it happen. He should have mentioned in his blog that local rangers helped him set everything up. I personally offered my time to help him for two good days. I am not in conservation for publicity but the media houses should have reported this with objective facts. We should just focus on conservation and avoid side shows like ‘discovery accusations’.

KB: Have you and your team spotted the leopard again since the images were shared with public?
Last month, I spotted one along the river at Loisaba conservancy but it was too quick for me to capture it on camera.
KB: What can be done to ensure this magnificent cat doesn’t become a trophy?
Authorities should enforce the death penalty to deter trophy hunters.
* Find out more about the black leopard here and follow Letoluai on Facebook for more conservation highlights.

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