For those of you that know my blogs, I often try and approach a sighting or story from a particular angle to give it more substance, but for this specific blog, I have been struggling. Then it occurred to me, that bearing in mind the nature of the sighting that I had in mind, an angle was irrelevant. Certain things in life are better without diluting them with superfluous information; it feels like I would be contaminating a pure event. It would be like ordering a tot of the most expensive whiskey in the bar and then mixing it with coke. It should just not be done.
Every now and again the bush gifts us with a rare sighting, one that almost takes your breath away, not necessarily due to the nature of the animal involved but by its unexpected nature. Sightings of rare animals are called in from time to time but due to the animal’s lack of exposure to vehicles, the sighting is usually but a blur. This sometimes goes a long way to make the incident special but we all yearn for quality, not quantity. Yesterday on drive, I was privileged to receive just that.
A call came in that a Serval had been spotted close to Bush Lodge. Assuming that there would be no trace of it before I arrived on the scene, I was in no hurry to respond but due to the fact that it was a serval, I felt almost obligated to try. The serval is a true enigma of the African savanna. Relatively common as far as numbers go, but rarely viewed, especially during daylight. The opportunity to catch even a glimpse of this elegant animal was worth the effort.
What met me was one of those experiences that defy belief. Casually minding its own business, not more that 10 meters from the vehicle, was a female serval. She seemed totally unperturbed by the presence of 2 Land Rovers and remained oblivious to us for close on an hour as she wove between the long grass. I was dumbstruck. In 6 years of guiding, in 3 distinctly different areas of Africa, I had never witnessed a serval at such proximity. I spent most of the time quietly smiling to myself, a cheesy grin spread across my face like a small child watching an amusing cartoon that it didn’t fully understand, trying to figure out if this was a dream or reality. I know I’m making this sound rather dramatic but for those of you in the industry, you will understand where I’m coming from.
What struck me most about this animal, other than its unexplainable habituation level, was its sheer beauty and elegance. We coo daily on our Facebook page about the beauty, the poise and the grace of the leopard and whilst it is undoubtedly true, try to imagine the same characteristics but in a smaller package. The smaller things are, often the cuter they become –just look at the way we dote over babies, puppies and kittens. Everything about this animal is spectacular, from the patterning of the pelt to its unusually stumpy tail.
For the next hour, I sat mesmerized by the actions of this fearless feline as she stalked unknown quarries in the tall grass, and took in her psychical appearance. Servals possess the longest legs in relation to their bodies of any feline and this gives it an air of importance and spender. They are supremely adapted for springing up to 3 meters into the air to either take birds out of the sky or to pounce on unsuspecting rodents, delivering a blow strong enough to kill. These legs also grace the serval with an elevated viewpoint from which to scan the veld and a posture that would embarrass even the British Royal family! Hearing is their main weapon when it comes to hunting and their ears are thought to be so sensitive that they are able to hone in on a mouse’s position by merely listening to its heart beat in the surrounding grass!
Eventually I chose to leave the serval to her afternoon, reveling in the experience and incredibly grateful to her for allowing me to share such a special insight into the life of one of the most illusive animals found here. Some of you may be thinking I’m a little crazy for speaking so passionately about a small cat, but let me try and put it into perspective for you. I did some quick sums in my head and worked out that I have probably amassed over 10,000 hours in the bush in the last 6 years and I have had maybe 20 serval sightings. Of those, the longest I have ever spent with one is about 3 minutes. Therefore to be afforded the luxury of an hour of up close and personal time, and to be able to just watch the behaviour was a true treat. The bush is full of surprises and you never know what awaits on the next safari!