Big ears, big hearts: servals teach compassion at nature park
Animal Care Manager Alene Greto gives Kowia, a 3-year-old serval, a corn-on-the-cob treat.
By JENNIFER MOSSCROP, Nfmneighbor@breezenewspapers.com
School may be in session but that does not mean students have to stop having fun. They can visit Kowia and Chobee, two serval cats at the Shell Factory’s nature park, located at 2787 N. Tamiami Trail, where there is much to learn about these elusive felines and the need to respect all wildlife.
Kowia, a three-year-old male, and Chobee, a five-year-old female, are on educational loan by nature park Animal Care Manager, Alene Greto’s animal rescue organization, Respecting All Wildlife Inc.
“I like to share with the public that animals are to be respected and treated with the utmost dignity.” Greto said. “I think its especially important to reach children so when they grow up and have to make decisions about building they will choose to not destroy their habitats.”
This species of cat can be found mostly in sub-Saharan Africa and south west Africa. The North African barbary servals are on the endangered species list according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Servals are known as the poor man’s cheetah because they have similar markings but cannot run as fast their counterparts. Their large ears allow them to use echo-location to hunt for rodents underground and other prey in tall grass. Because of their long legs they can pounce or leap up to catch prey. They are known to jump 10 feet in the air and grab a bird mid-flight.
When Kowia and Chobee have young visitors, the most commonly asked questions Greto and animal care staffer, Jarred Jordan get are: Is that a cheetah? How high can they jump? Why do they have spots?
Born in captivity, Kowia and Chobee came to the park this spring and are still under the care of Greto.
“I feel honored that mother nature has given me the gift of bonding and receiving so much unconditional love from them,” Greto said.
The cats’ unique personalities shine brightest when they get a corn-on-the-cob treat or fish dumped into their baby pool. Kowia usually grabs the fish with his paws and drops it in front of Chobee. Chobee grabs the food and gobbles it up or hides it in their small “dog house” located inside the habitat. Greto said she gets kisses from Kowia on a regular basis.
Jordan recalls a time when Kowia swatted at Chobee for catching an attitude with him while he was feeding. Kowia seemed to be sticking up for Jordan.
If a serval hisses at a visitor, do not take offense. Greto said that is how they communicate. Whether they are happy, hungry or angry, hissing is a large part of their communication.
The servals are fed fresh beef, chicken, shrimp or fish, twice a day.
According to Greto, the nature park spends over $2,000 a month on feeding the animals.
Greto has been animal care manager at the nature park since February. She oversees a staff of six and is responsible for the animals. She says that one of the perks of working at the park is that she gets to name the animals.
“Due to the fact that owners, Pam and Tom Cronin and CEO Nancy Mitchell work day in and day out to create an environmentally friendly atmosphere for the animals and the visitors, the nature park is the perfect venue to put my personal goals of rescuing animals and teaching respect for animals into practice,” Greto said.
The servals are named after Kowia Chobee, a cougar that Greto bonded with while working at another wildlife sanctuary. Kowia Chobee died at six years old so Greto wanted to honor him by naming the servals after him.
“He was the animal that taught me that all animals give unconditional love,” she said. “I made a promise to him that I would teach this to others.”
Greto said Kowia Chobee is a Seminole name roughly translated to “big screaming cat.”
To book a class trip and visit the servals, contact Shell Factory & Nature Park Entertainment Coordinator, Cindy Smuk at (239) 995-2655.
For the cats,
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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