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Servals on the catwalk at Kariega

Jone Haesslich
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The arrival of Serval brothers - KILLIAN and KELPIE

Kariega Game Reserve South Africa is very excited to have recently released two male servals on the Eastern part of the game reserve. These two wild cats – brothers Killian and Kelpie – were born on 11 November 2011 and raised by their mother at the Cat Conservation Trust. Their mother was born in captivity while their father was wild born.

Killian and Kelpie were kept in a boma enclosure for their first few weeks at Kariega in order to adjust to their new environment and to await the arrival of their tracking collars. Once the collars were fitted the plan was to open the boma door and allow the servals to exit in their own time, leaving food at the release sight every so often, until they started to fend fully for themselves. The special collars that were ordered would help to track and monitor the progress and adjustment of the brothers.

Unfortunately before the collars arrived and could be fitted, the area was struck by flooding, and Killian and Kelpie had to be released from their enclosure ahead of schedule. The floodwaters were threatening to rise above the level of the enclosures and the decision was taken to release the brothers for fear of them drowning, despite not having had the opportunity to fit the tracking devices.

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A sighting at last!

This left the problem of not being able to readily locate and monitor Killian and Kelpie, and additionally the floods left many parts of the reserve inaccessible, so in the first week or so after the flooding it was not possible to survey their entire range in an attempt to find the cats. However, a little over a week after the flooding both of them were spotted hunting in long grass some distance from their release sight!

A history of Servals in the Kariega area

Servals are currently all but extinct, and sadly they have passed from the scene with very little actually known about their former distribution and behaviour. This may be partly due to the fact that the written record is bedevilled with a misuse of names without adequate descriptions needed for positive identification. Despite the confusion there is enough evidence that the serval occurred along the coastal and sub-coastal belt of the Eastern Cape Province.

Wildlife historian, CJ Skead notes that between the early historical period (pre-1900) and the recent historical period (1960s to 1980s) there was a marked decrease in overall range and density of the serval, the probable reasons being loss of specialised habitat, as well as possible direct and indirect prosecution. The last known record of wild serval in the Kariega area was a specimen spotted in 1889 near Grahamstown.

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Small Cat Conservation

In the last few decades conservation and wildlife have become a very important part of life in the Eastern Cape and in South Africa as a whole – both ethically and economically. There are many wonderful organisations centred on conserving and enabling the healthy repopulation of indigenous animals to game parks across southern Africa. One such organisation is the Cat Conservation Trust who “aim to create public awareness of the plight of the small cats through research and education” and it was at this wonderful organisation that Killian and Kelpie were raised.

Making a difference at Kariega

With the introduction of Killian and Kelpie, Kariega Game Reserve South Africa is thrilled to able to give these animals a home in the wild. Sadly there seems to be a shortage of females country-wide, but Kariega hopes to introduce females as soon as possible with the ultimate goal of re-establishing the serval population in the area after an absence of many years.

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A very big thank you to Marion from the Cat Conservation Trust for making the Kariega re-introduction possible and to everyone at the organisation for all the good work being done for the serval and other small cat species. Please find out more about their work with African Wild Cat, Black-Footed Cat, Caracal and Serval on the Cat Conservation Trust website, or join their Facebook page here.