NAIROBI PARK DIARY

Servals at dawn

We watched a kitten receive a delicious 'rat breakfast'

In Summary

• Servals keep the population of rodents down with vigorous hunting

Serval and kitten play
Serval and kitten play
Image: GARETH JONES

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.

Such a 'suddenly’ moment happened very early one morning a few weeks ago, just before sunrise. As we rounded a slight corner 2, sets of what appeared to be cats' eyes reflected in the road as the vehicle headlights shone ahead.

I mentally estimated the spot where the reflective cats 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 they would begin to behave naturally. As the sun rose, we really enjoyed the show. The kitten was seemingly “super-charged” with energy, repeatedly stalking and “play attacking” its mother. It also leaped high above the grass to pounce on “mum”.

The kitten also received a delicious “rat breakfast” with love from “mum”. We watched them behaving naturally for almost two 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 of any cat, relative to their body size. They have a roughly 50 per cent kill success rate.

Servals keep the population of rodents down with vigorous hunting. Pregnant females do not generally den but make a nest in tall grass. They almost always have three kittens. The kittens change quickly, and within two weeks, their eyes are open and their coat has taken on the adult colouring. 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.