Melanistic serval spotted in the Serengeti

A regular serval is high on the bucket list of many avid safari-goers but spotting them is tough. They’re shy, secretive cats that tend to live in tall grasses — the perfect combination for staying unnoticed. But now, an even rarer melanistic serval has made its home in the Namiri Plains area of the eastern Serengeti, Tanzania.

Melanism (increased development of the dark-coloured pigment melanin in skin/hair) in servals primarily occurs in East Africa, particularly in the highland regions over 2000m, which is what makes this sighting particularly special.

Image credit: George Turner @georgetheexplorer

At around 1000m, the Namiri Plains, Tanzania, are considerably lower than the normal altitude where melanism is more prevalent. It’s likely this particular serval travelled from the nearby – and much higher – Ngorongoro Crater and established a new territory.

Nobody knows for sure why melanism occurs in servals. Some think the increased altitude (and forested habitat that comes with it) reduces exposure to daylight, encouraging melanism.

There’s no guarantee that ‘Manja’ (named after the guide at @asiliaafrica who first spotted him), should he find a mate, will produce melanistic kittens. As melanism is carried by a recessive gene, it could be years before any begin appearing in the area. The hope, for now, is that he continues to flourish in the grasslands and build on his territory. Also, what serval could resist those charming good looks?

Image: George Turner, @georgetheexplorer

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