There are many firsts out here.
Your first impala, first kudu bull, first elephant…
Your first safari is of course littered with them, and each one seems to generate more excitement than the last. In fact, as guides, it is the energy given off by guests when they experience each animal for the first time that really fuels us and inspires us to keep sharing the magic out here.
Whether you like it or not though, the novelty of seeing an impala can wear off, and as much as I hate to admit it, I do not stop for every impala anymore (unless my guests haven’t seen one yet). Having said that, there will always remain something that us guides and trackers have never seen. For many years a lot of South African bush goers would have told you that seeing a wild leopard was their ultimate prize, as they are considered secretive, shy cats that rarely allow themselves to be seen. Of course, the leopards of Londolozi are habituated compared to most of the World, allowing us some unbelievable sightings that most people would never have dreamed of.
I have been visiting the greater Kruger National Park area for 25 years of my life, and have been fortunate to work in a few different wild places, including the Okavango Delta.
The one animal that has evaded me all this time is the Serval.
I conducted some work with camera traps in the Okavango and recorded an individual coming across the bridge to our camp on numerous occasions, once just 30 minutes before we walked across. I once was on a vehicle in the grasslands of the Kwa-Zulu Natal province in South Africa when the driver spotted one just off to the side of the road in the headlights. In his excitement to show me (knowing that it was my ultimate animal to see) there was some confusion and with all the shouting – “LOOK! LOOK PETE!” – the serval ran and all I saw was darkness.
That same gentleman spotted a serval cross the road in broad daylight just days after I left his farm. To rub salt into my wounds, the author of a recent blog on Londoloz’s Secret Seven animals to view – Ranger Chris Taylor – had a sighting of one in Londolozi’s south-western grasslands as I got back to camp. Hope was not lost though as out here, you just never know what is around each corner…
My moment came this last week:
Tracker Bennet Mathonsi had seen the reflection of its eyes in the spotlight, behind a bush in a thicket. I knew it was something special when he raised his voice and said, “Go forward! It’s either a leopard, or… a Serval!” Just as he said this, it walked right into the clearing in front of us. I fumbled to get my camera out, knowing that nobody would believe me without photographic evidence. Luckily I had already switched to the settings for night photography, and even luckier for us, it just acted as if we weren’t even there…
Serval are typically found in grassland areas where there are lower densities of larger predators such as leopard, hyena and lion. They will walk through the grass, periodically stopping to listen out for the movement of rodents with their massive ears. Their long legs allow them to pounce long distances when hunting, giving them a peculiar look along with their mid-length tail and over-sized ears.
To top off our sighting, as we sat in silence watching the serval in awe under a magnificent starry sky, we heard the growls of a pair of leopards mating nearby!
What’s next on the list?
Filed under Featured General Nature Safari experience Wildlife
Fantastic sighting Pete. We were forrunate to see Serval quite a few times in Kruger. I know that excited feeling. Seeing a brown hyena for the first time in the Kgalagadi was amazing. Even better than seeing a lion. Next on my list is a caracal and pangolin. Our White River nature reserve has got a camera trap and last month they spotted a serval.
Peter, you’ve given me a goal for my next visit!!!!
Pete, feeling good for you. The Serval even looks elusive. What else is on your bucket list.
Congratulations on finally seeing a serval, Pete, especially one that stayed around awhile for you to observe ! I’ve glimpsed a few running off but had one daytime experience where we actually watched one hunt, leaping and pouncing. What a treat to even see one!
Serval-check! How exciting for you and your guests to view this elusive cat. What’s next?!
Wow Pete! What a wonderful sighting! Congratulations on seeing your Serval! Wendy M
I’m so happy for you Pete! It’s a beautiful cat.
Really lovely shots and post. It never ceases to amaze me that such small cats survive in such a large cat world. Gorgeous creatures!
Amazing stuff, congratulations!!! I ave yet to see a serval myself but I have been lucky enough to see caracal and black-footed cat.
It is always so exciting to actually an entire smaller cat at night. I think I have mostly seen a pair of eyes and movement in the brush. Tantalizing but not as satisfying as your sighting. Victoria
Pete, we saw a serval in the Serengeti – it was a small cat – but we were all surprised, and it was in the day time so we were able to get some great shots of it.
What’s next on the list – a caracal or the holy of holies – a melanistic leopard
Sorry I should have said well done – or arghh – well spotted
Nice one! Where do Servals spend their time during the day? Holed up in deep thickets? Up a tree? In a den of some sort?
How cool for you to see such a beautiful cat for the first time.
So very happy for you Pete AND the sighting was lengthy as well. Must have been so satisifying. Well, check that one off!
I noticed in the video that at 15sec until about 19sec there is either a light in the distance, or eye shine from another creature. Any idea?