Belfast Couple Share Amazing Photos Of Rare Strawberry Leopard
In stunning photos that have never been seen before, a couple inadvertently caught the rarest leopard in the world on camera.
The strawberry leopard was spotted on the Thaba Tholo Wilderness Reserve in South Africa by a motion triggered camera which was pinned to a tree.
Alan Watson, 45, and his wife Lynsey, 41, had seen the strange pink tinged species skulking around, but had never been able to catch it on film.
They caught the creature feasting on a dead giraffe near the reserve's Black Leopard Mountain Lodge, which they own, in the first ever set of photos of the animal up close.
Alan and Lynsey, from Belfast, got the pics after they set up a camera next to a giraffe killed in an intense thunderstorm in July.
Suspecting they might get 'a few hundred photos of grass moving', Alan was shocked when a researcher reviewing the pics spotted the strawberry leopard, which he has nicknamed Goldie.
Dad-of-three Alan said: "As far as I know, this is the rarest colour of leopard in the world.
"We hope she will bring new people to the lodge.
"A lot of people who come to spot wildlife in the area go away disappointed not to have seen a leopard.
"They are so well camouflaged and incredibly elusive. Even these ones, if they were going through the long grass you wouldn't see them.
"If she doesn't want to be seen, you aren't going to see her. It's so nice to discover something new in nature.
"So much of the time you hear about species being extinct, and here we are with something new. It's incredible."
The area where the ranch is located is perfect for wildlife because the mountainous terrain puts off poachers and animal farmers, while the surrounding citrus groves provide perfect safe corridors.
"We thought we might get photos of blades of grass," said Alan. "But I was in the bar and this very shocked, pale, researcher who was going through the photos came and said, 'You need to look at this.'
"There she was, this golden leopard feeding from 7am to 9am. It was pretty cool.
"In one, she has turned around and snarled at the camera. You can see her nose wrinkled up. It's quite amazing and it's just so clear."
Alan said one was killed a few years ago on the roads outside Lydenburg, near his reserve.
He added that there have been sightings on his reserve of a second leopard - not yet caught on camera.
"Our two could be the only two living ones in the wild today," said Alan. "Obviously I'm hoping there are more."
Alan said the road is the biggest danger to the recently photographed leopard, because poachers don't stray into his reserve, where the hunting of big cats is banned.
Featured Image Credit: SWNS