Was That a Cat?
This week we were very priviliged to see an animal that is rarely seen on cam or in person in the wilds of the African bush. At first glance we thought could this be a leopard? Or a cheetah? His coat is yellowish tan with black spots, a few bands and a few stripes thrown in the mix. The tail has black rings and his underside is very light, either white or tan. Maybe a civet? No, this cat is a Serval, one of seven species of the smaller sized African cats.
The serval we saw recently at the Nkorho Pan came in quietly and cautious, always listening while he lapped up each swallow of water. Shy and elusive, the serval travels and hunts almost exclusively at night, using sight and sound more than the scents he may smell along the way. In areas of Africa where the serval has been left alone, he will venture out to hunt at dawn and dusk.
One of the most interesting and fine tuned way of hunting has become the servals key to survival. His large rounded ears help promote his excellent sense of hearing, so much so that he can hear his prey as it makes even a tiny movement in the dense bush. Listening and watching, the cat pauses, waits then leaps on its prey. This cat is one of many species that likes to play with its food before settling down for the meal.They are very successful hunters and eat a wide variety of prey, including rodents, small ungulates, birds, lizards, frogs and insects. Their success rate is high at about 50% (lions are about 30% successful).
True to the cat family, the serval has many different vocalizations, including purring, hissing, growling, spitting and a high pitched sound they use to call other servals. When threatened they arch their backs much like our domesticated cats do.
Who are the natural enemies of the serval? Hyenas, leopards, and wild dogs pose a threat to the cat, especially when there are kittens around. The female serval usually has a litter of 1-3, giving birth in a lair tucked deep in the bush. She moves them quite often to keep them from being detected, making observation of the offspring quite difficult. Like the cheetahs, the mother will leave the kittens hidden while she goes off to hunt.
There are 28 species of smalls cats worldwide, and its believed that the domestic cats are descendants of the African Wild Cat that was domesticated by the Egyptians around 2000 B.C.
Unfortunatley with the beauty of the servals coat, comes the human desire to have his fur turned into clothing. To make of a coat from small wild cats, it requires a very large number of skins because of the intricate process of matching spots, stripes and bars. Servals have shown up in the pet trade as well, seeming cute and cuddly as kittens. As they grow and their natural instincts begin to show they become destructive, hard to handle and dangerous before they are full grown. This often leads to abandoment, neglect, and even death of the cat.
The serval is a naturally shy and protective animal, but even he has been found by man and used to satisfy greed or other momentary whims. No matter how beautiful, how small or how harmless a wild animal may seem, they are destined to be just that...wild animals.. like that free and beautiful cat we watched at the Nkorho Pan.