Postcard: A Surprising Serval Cat

Serval cat looks for food in the Masai Mara, Kenya

I’ve mentioned many times that one of the things I adore about the bush is its daily surprises, and on our last day in the Masai Mara we had just such a surprise: a long encounter with a serval cat.

Serval cat in the Mara Triangle, Kenya

Typically very skittish, I’ve seen servals a few times at night but always as a blurry flash that barely gives me enough time to focus. On this occasion however, we spotted one out and about hunting midday in bright light (the light was pretty harsh so not the best picture-taking conditions), and it couldn’t have cared less that we were only 15 feet away!

Serval cat in the Mara Triangle, Kenya 3

Not the greatest shot but it shows just how lanky the serval’s legs are plus you can see how close it came to us by the shadow of our jeep at its feet

I am used to being ignored by lions and cheetah—they’re so used to people in vehicles they behave as if we are simply an audience beyond the footlights and they are the players putting on a show. But to have a serval cat not only ignore us but stay out in the open, hunt in front of us, and then casually walk by our vehicle as if we were not there, was thrilling.

Serval cat in the Mara Triangle, Kenya 2

It gave us ample time to really LOOK at it. What a beautiful lanky creature. It’s about the size of a large house cat but its legs are longer and its tail is shorter. Its markings are cheetah-esque.

Serval cat in the Mara Triangle, Kenya 5

We watched the serval hunt, its eyes darting furiously from left to right, searching under bushes, dipping its head into various holes, but after nearly a half hour it gave up on our location and disappeared into the distance.



9 replies »

  1. Your serval photos are exquisite! And you’re not kiddin’ about how skittish they are, always slinking around in the dark, far away. You were so very lucky that day! And I’m lucky to be the recipient of these excellent photos. 😀


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