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13 Jul, 2024
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A Serval Morning – Article by Gareth Jones

A Serval Morning In The Nairobi National Park

When driving in the Nairobi National Park, it is always good to be prepared for those “suddenly” moments when you see something rare or special. Try to drive with your camera ON and READY and next to you if possible, plus if you have binoculars have them out as well, slow driving is obviously necessary for good sightings.

Well, such a “suddenly” moment happened very early one morning a few weeks ago. We were driving along just before sunrise, and as we rounded a slight corner, 2 sets of what appeared to be cat’s eyes reflected in the road as the vehicle headlights shone ahead. I mentally estimated the spot where the reflective cat’s eyes disappeared off the road. As we stopped I saw a movement in the long grass near the road. After waiting a few minutes a serval emerged followed by a small kitten, WOW!! what a rare sighting. Obviously we switched off the vehicle and sat quietly to watch them, hoping that they would begin to behave naturally and not move away from our location. As the sun rose and daylight increased, we really enjoyed the show. The kitten was seemingly “super-charged” with energy, repeatedly stalking and “play attacking” its mother. It was also really super fast-acting as it leapt high above the grass to pounce on “mom”. The kitten also received a delicious “rat breakfast” with love from “mom”, and made a quick meal of it. The mother serval repeatedly attempted to clean the kitten. Amazingly we were able to watch them behaving naturally for almost 2 hours. It was a really special time as we enjoyed a rare serval morning!

The serval (Leptailurus serval) is a medium-sized African wild cat. Servals have the longest legs for any cat, relative to their body size. Most of this increase in length is due to the greatly elongated metatarsal bones in the feet. The toes are also elongated, and unusually mobile, helping the animal to capture partially concealed prey. Another distinctive feature of the serval is the presence of large ears and auditory bullae in the skull, indicating a particularly acute sense of hearing. The serval is a skilled hunter that employs several techniques. They will actively trail, wait in ambush or run down their prey and have a higher kill success rate than any other cat species about 50 per cent of the time. Rats are one of their favourite meals. Servals keep the population of rodents down with vigorous hunting. Servals are solitary animals that have large territories that they mark along the perimeter. They scent mark with a spray of urine or leave visual clues by scratching particular trees. Pregnant females do not generally den but make a nest in tall grass. They almost always have three kittens which are born a grey colour with barely visible spots. The kittens change quickly, and within two weeks their eyes are open and their coat has taken on the adult colouring, with a fuzzy top layer. Young servals will stay with their mother for about a year before heading off on their own.

To see a serval cat anywhere in Africa is very special, and the Nairobi National Park is a good place to find them. They are not common and are difficult to see due to their markings. Some people could mistake them for a miniature cheetah, but they are much smaller than cheetahs and have distinctive markings. They also have a shy reserved nature, and as a result, their habits are often sneaky and secretive. They are quite small cats, that could look a bit like a cheetah, but are much smaller.

So next time you are thinking about what to do with recreational time, why not come and spend it in the Nairobi National Park, pack a picnic basket, relax and enjoy taking in the “Soul Tonic” of God’s creation!


Gareth Jones – Nairobi Park Diary – A passionate writer & photographer