NAIROBI PARK DIARY

The 'speckletacular' cats

They are difficult to see due to their markings

In Summary

• The serval is closely related to the African golden cat and the caracal

Serval cat
Serval cat
Image: GARETH JONES

When driving in the Nairobi National Park, always be prepared for those “suddenly” moments when you see something rare or special. It is good to drive with your camera on and ready, and next to you if possible. Slow driving is obviously necessary for good sightings.

Well, such a “suddenly’ moment happened late one afternoon a few years ago, when I was driving around a corner on the mbuni loop. Suddenly, a serval stood looking at me on the right side of the road. In a moment, the serval walked away and disappeared into the grass. I was just about to go when suddenly, the serval leaped out of the grass and landed about three metres up the previous tree.

The intended prey, a bird, just managed to fly away by a fraction. Wow! What a rare moment to witness, it is a special moment to see any serval, but leaping up a tree is incredible.

The serval is closely related to the African golden cat and the caracal. Servals have the longest legs of any cat, relative to their body size. including large ears, indicating a particularly acute sense of hearing. To see a serval is very special, and the Nairobi National Park is a good place to find them. They are difficult to see due to their markings.

Some people could mistake them for miniature cheetah, but they are much smaller than cheetahs. Their patterns are so amazingly beautiful, especially when seen from close up, that I have given them the name “Speckletacular Servals”. ‘Speckletacular” is a word I made up by blending two words, speckle & spectacular.

So next time you are in the Nairobi National Park, if you see a serval, please note that they are normally very sensitive to noise and are quite shy. Be extra alert and watch out. Hopefully you may be blessed by having a “Speckletacular serval” sighting.