Re-introducing serval – one of Africa’s 10 indigenous wild cats

Posted by Claire Allison on 29 April 2013

Although widely distributed south of the Sahara, the serval became extinct in the Cape provinces of South Africa over the last century mainly due to habitat loss, hunting and poaching. Recently however private game reserves in the Eastern Cape have begun re-introducing the species in the hopes of contributing to the eventual re-establishment of these wild cats in the region.

The serval is one of ten indigenous wild cats found in Africa. Only three other small wild cats are found in South Africa, namely the caracal, African wild cat, and the black-footed cat. The other three species, the sand cat, golden cat and jungle cat are found in limited areas in north and central Africa. The remaining big cats of Africa, lion, leopard and cheetah, receive much more attention than their smaller cousins.

The serval is a medium-sized cat that can weigh up to 20 kg. They have particularly long legs that help them to jump up to three metres and they have been seen to catch birds in flight. They also have large ears giving them excellent hearing and enabling them to detect prey moving underground.

Land use changes good for wild cats and predators

The Eastern Cape area was once dominated by stock farming, but in recent decades has seen an increase in private game reserves. This is good news for wildlife predators such as jackal, caracal and even leopard which are hunted and killed for the threat they pose to livestock. In the case of the serval, it was wiped completely from the area, but as private game reserves grow so does their capacity to re-introduce indigenous wildlife to the area.

Male serval Kariega Game Reserve

Male serval, Killian, adjusting to his new environment at a Kariega boma enclosure

Servals at Kariega Game Reserve

Kariega Game Reserve is one of the private game reserves in the region that recently released four servals – two male, two female. The Kariega servals were bred by the Cat Conservation Trust, an organisation specialising in the conservation of South Africa’s four small wild cat species – serval, caracal, black-footed cat and wild African cat. Before release on Kariega the young servals were transferred to a boma enclosure in order to adapt to their new surroundings, as well as be fitted with tracking collars for effective monitoring. The two males have since been released and the females are soon to follow just as soon as they are big and old enough.

Reintroducing servals to game parks across the Eastern Cape

A number of other private game reserves in the Eastern Cape have also implemented serval reintroduction programs including Shamwari Game Reserve and the Great Fish River Reserve. Despite an interval of absence in the Eastern Cape, research shows that the area is still a suitable habitat for the serval, and with the co-operation of neighbouring farms, land and game reserve owners, re-introduction has the potential to be successful. Shamwari has even reported that although it is difficult to tell exact numbers, guests on safari have occasionally spotted kittens.

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