Kalahari and Serengeti were pets that became unwanted after a divorce. Even people with the best intentions are not usually prepared for the life time commitment involved in owning an exotic cat. Kalahari is smaller than her sister Serengeti, and she has a chronic heart condition for which she must be given medication every day. Several of the cats at Big Cat Rescue have chronic conditions that require medications on an ongoing basis. Sometimes it can be quite difficult to get a wild cat to eat their medication. Kalahari’s keepers have found that she really likes whole prey like the day old chicks that are purchased frozen from a wholesaler. The chick is thawed out and then keepers put Kalahari’s pill down the chick’s throat. Kalahari gets really excited when she gets her special chick each day and quickly devours the treat unaware that she has just been medicated.
Most of our servals were rescued from people who got them as pets and were not prepared for the fact that male or female, altered or not, they all spray buckets of urine when they become adults. Some were being sold at auction where taxidermists would buy them and club them to death in the parking lot, but a few were born here in the early days when we were ignorant of the truth and were being told by the breeders and dealers that these cats should be bred for “conservation.” Once we learned that there are NO captive breeding programs that actually contribute to conservation in the wild we began neutering and spaying our cats in the mid 1990’s. Knowing what we do about the intelligence and magnificence of these creatures we do not believe that exotic cats should be bred for lives in cages. Read more about our Evolution of Thought
More about Kalahari
Kalahari and Serengetti are two sister servals who were born here back in 1996 and are now part of the reason that we no longer breed exotic cats. At the time they were born we had two volunteers who were married to each other and who were a couple of the most dedicated volunteers we had at the time. Their names were John and Penny and they were people we could always depend on for cleaning cages, feeding the cats, giving tours and doing outreach. There didn’t want children and were wholly committed to helping protect exotic cats in any way they knew how. I could not have asked for a more dynamic team.
When Kalahari and Serengetti were born, John and Penny made their pitch for why they would be be the best home possible for the two youngsters. Their intention was to raise them with the kind of doting love and attention that two full time parents could give. They would be so confidant and socialized that they would be comfortable going out to schools and civic events as “ambassadors” to teach people about why we need to protect wild cats and wild places. Back then we didn’t realise that such “ambassadors” only cause people to want them as pets and are thus counter productive to the mission.
John would rave to us about all of the new tricks he had taught “their girls” and the rest of us kind of lived vicariously through his stories because he never actually brought “the girls” out for us to visit any more. They never did, to my recollection, take “the girls” out into the public as intended, but I believed they were loved and cherished and that was good enough for me. The two servals were raised until they were two or three years old; about the time that they became mature and were no longer fun and handleable as pets.
Then John and Penny divorced. They quit volunteering. Neither felt the other was an appropriate parent to “the girls” so they asked if I would take them back. Of course we did, but the only family they had ever known was John and Penny so they were not friendly to our keepers initially and didn’t enjoy visitors. That is why they aren’t on the tour path and why a lot of you have probably never even met them.
Kalahari has a heart problem and has to be given two types of meds every day and has had to be tended to by our current vet care staff for the past 10-11 years. The people who had vowed to be there for her and Serengetti aren’t there any more, but current Big Cat Rescuers are. Their story is just one of hundreds that we tell about why even the smaller exotic cats never work out as pets.
No one had more time invested in caring for servals that John and Penny did at the time of their adoption. They had seen lots of other servals go from being cute and cuddly kittens who grew up into spitting, hissing servals. They thought they were different. They thought they could do it better and I believed it too. I really thought the love and attention they would give these two would be far above what I could offer here, with volunteers who come and go, and I thought that they would have a forever home.
There were a lot of cats here, mostly those who were rescued from fur farms, some who were born here, that I put into what I thought were loving and forever homes, but almost all of those cats have come home to us. It is the family that makes up Big Cat Rescue who turn out to be the safety net for these cats and for those we rescue. As I watch huge sanctuaries get in over their heads and fail, I am ever reminded that we have to be smarter, more diligent and more accountable to each other than ever before if we are to be able to provide the forever home that is Big Cat Rescue.
Common Name: Serval Kingdom: Animalia Phylum: Chordata (Vertebrata) Class: Mammalia Order: Carnivora Family: Felidae Genus: Felinae (Leptailurus) Species: Serval (L.s. constantina)
Barbary Serval thought to now be Extinct
Misc: The name Serval is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “wolf-deer.”
Size and Appearance: Often referred to as the cat of spare parts, this unusual, but beautiful cat is among the feline family’s most successful. It has a small, delicate head and extremely large ears set on an elongated neck, long slim legs (hind legs longer than front), long slender body and a short tail. The ears are black on the back with a distinctive white spot, and the tail has 6 or 7 black rings and a black tip. The coat color is pale yellow with black markings, either of large spots that tend to merge into longitudinal stripes on the neck and back, or of numerous small spots, which give a speckled appearance. These “speckled” Servals from west Africa – called servalines – used to be considered a separate species Felis brachyura, until it was demonstrated that the speckled pattern was just a variation or “morph”.
Habitat: Servals are found in well-watered savannah long-grass environments, and are associated with reed beds and other riparian vegetation types. They occupy a variety of habitats all associated with water sources, they range up into alpine grasslands and can penetrate deep dense forests along waterways and through grassy patches, but are absent from rain forests. They will make use of arid areas in extreme instances, and have occasionally done so in parts of south-western Africa.
Distribution: sub-Saharan Africa, with small populations in south-west Africa, and a reported relict population in North Africa (no recent sightings confirmed).
Reproduction and Offspring: After a gestation of approximately 73 days, females produce a litter of 1-5 kittens, with 2 being the average. They weigh in at around 8.5-9 ounces at birth, and it will take 9-12 days until their eyes open. They begin to take solid foods around the age of 3 weeks, and are independent between 6-8 months, but may remain in their natal ranges. They attain sexual maturity between 18-24 months, and it is at this time that they will be forced out of their mother’s territory.
In captivity, Servals have lived past 20 years at Big Cat Rescue and up to 19 years in other facilities.
Social System and Communication: Servals are solitary animals, and social interactions are limited to periods of mating. Each sex maintains its own territory. Hear our chirps, purrs, hisses, snarls, calls, and growl sounds HERE
Hunting and Diet: Much like the big bad wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” the Servals big ears are “the better to hear you with!” The serval’s sensitive hearing allows it to locate small mammals moving through the grass or underground, and to hunt its prey sometimes without seeing it until the final pounce. It also has the ability to leap vertically and catch prey such as birds, right out of the air. They do this by “clapping” with their front paws together and striking with a downward blow. Primary prey items for the Serval includes rodents, birds, reptiles, fish, frogs and insects. Servals have a hunting success rate of 50%.
Principal Threats: the main threats to Servals are leopards, dogs, and of course, man. Because of their beautiful pelage, they are a prime target for poachers. Their skins are sold as young leopards or cheetahs, which are much scarcer. The pelt trade for they are sold is mostly for domestic ceremonial, medicinal purposes or the tourist trade rather than for commercial export. There is also the issue of preserving the land that makes up their homeland, which is destroyed by human encroachment or from annual burning of grasslands. Some tribes hunt and kill the Serval for their flesh, which is considered a delicacy.
Status: CITES: Appendix II. IUCN: Not listed.
Felid TAG recommendation: Serval (Leptailurus serval). Common in nature and captivity, this species is important for institutions with zoogeographic themes, as well as for educational uses. Most specimens probably can be traced to a subspecies. Currently, there are more servals in zoos than recommended by the RCP. The PMP target population is 80 individuals. 91% of the population is of unknown origin and not suitable for breeding. The first stud book ever was published for this species in 2003.
How rare is this cat? The International Species Information Service lists 292 in zoos worldwide, with 130 being in the U.S.
Information reprinted With Permission from the IUCN Wild Cats Book.
The first few minutes are sounds you might not have ever heard a tiger make, as Amanda Tiger does Operant Conditioning w/ Olga, our guest from Spain. After being away for a few days, Carole goes around checking on cats and takes note of what the volunteers and interns have been doing. Rare footage of Vern at Family Dinner too.
Cybil has some moderate liver enzyme elevations for which she will start a new supplement as well as worsening kidney disease which is pretty significant. She will be monitored closely now that she is back in her enclosure.
Cybil had a back leg that was fractured beyond repair and it healed very crooked. It was thought that someday we would have the leg removed, but she hops around just fine and the leg has not atrophied as expected. She is probably one of the meanest Servals that lives at Big Cat Rescue. She always greets with a hiss (as shown in this photo). Because Cybil does not like people very much she is not on the regular tour path. That way she will not be upset by visitors. Cybil is the perfect example that not all hand reared exotics will grow up to be docile.
Most of our servals were rescued from people who got them as pets and were not prepared for the fact that male or female, altered or not, they all spray buckets of urine when they become adults. Some were being sold at auction where taxidermists would buy them and club them to death in the parking lot, but a few were born here in the early days when we were ignorant of the truth and were being told by the breeders and dealers that these cats should be bred for “conservation.”
Once we learned that there are NO captive breeding programs that actually contribute to conservation in the wild we began neutering and spaying our cats in the mid 1990’s. Knowing what we do about the intelligence and magnificence of these creatures we do not believe that exotic cats should be bred for lives in cages. Read more about our Evolution of Thought HERE