Four servals, one year on

15 March 2023


A year ago today, four servals confiscated as illegal pets in Belgium started a new life at a Born Free-funded sanctuary in South Africa.

Left: Mahaba; Centre: Kamagelo; Top right: Lekanya; Bottom right: Balozi

Today marks one year since four servals, rescued in Belgium, arrived at their new, lifetime home in the Born Free section of Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary, South Africa.  

The four – originally named after the towns they came from but given new names on arrival at the sanctuary – had been kept as pets in Belgium, before being rescued in four separate cases. Although it is still legal to keep servals as pets in UK, it is against the law in Belgium, so the authorities could take action.

Servals have evolved to roam Africa’s savannah and, like all wild animals, do not make good pets. The quartet were kindly given a temporary home by our friends at Natuurhulpcentrum, who cared for them until we were able to offer them lifetime care, with the invaluable assistance of our supporters.

We last updated you five months after their arrival, when the four were settling in well and gaining confidence. As you can see, they continue to improve and our flourishing today. Mahaba remains the shyest, seeming to enjoy his independence and making the most of the wide expanse of his enclosure, finding lots of cosy spots to curl up in. He was an adult when rescued from private ownership, compared to the other three being young, so understandably he’s struggled with the change more.

Kamogelo was the youngest, estimated to be only a couple of months old upon confiscation, and today is confident and self-assured. He spends a lot of his time lazing around in the African sun. Balozi’s relaxed and friendly side has come out more recently with his confidence simulatenously improving. While Lekanya is the playful one, enjoying the enrichment their carers provide. His favourite hobby seems to be playing with water from a hose in his enclosure!

The four servals certainly make the most of the large, natural habitat space provided, allowing them a sense of independence and, we hope, the happiness that they so deserve.

As part of their expert care, some have had x-rays  obtain a better understating of their health. These revealed metabolic bone disease, unfortunately common in felids (cat species) and other animals who have not been fed an appropriate or nutritious diet at a young age. The servals are now receiving additional calcium in their diet to counteract, as far as possible, any metabolic issues they may have from their early lives. Their health and condition is continually and closely monitored by their devoted animal carers.

Speaking about her experience working with and caring for the four servals this past year, Panthera’s Volunteer Coordinator Steph Noble says “We have had the amazing pleasure of seeing the personalities of all four of our servals blossom over the last year as they’ve settled into their forever home. We have loved getting to know the boys and we very much look forward to seeing how Balozi, Lekanya, Kamogelo and Mahaba continue to thrive!”

Rescue and Care Officer Flo Blackbourn says “I am delighted to hear that the four are doing so well in their new home. They must have had such a difficult start in life, and we will never know exactly how they ended up being kept illegally as pets in Belgium, but what matters most to them and us now is that they spend the rest of their lives in the peace and comfort of the sanctuary they have been given.”

Born Free’s work continues to combat the legal and illegal trade in wild animals as pets. “Unlike Belgium and a growing number of European countries, it is still legal to keep servals as pets within the UK,” reiterates Chris Lewis, our Captivity Research Officer.

“There are at least 75 servals and 65 serval hybrids (‘savannah cats’) being kept under Dangerous Wild Animals licences in 2020 in the UK. Their keeping and breeding is largely fuelled by social media where they are seen as a ‘designer pet’. Measures to tighten the UK’s rules on exotic pet keeping are urgently needed, and have the support of 83% of the UK public as revealed in Born Free’s recently published UK Wildlife Manifesto.”

With you, our supporters, we can continue to take action against the exploitative exotic pet industry. And your donations help provide the loving care to giv the four servals the life they deserve and to help rescue other wild animals in need. Thank you!

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