Four servals, two years on

Rescued from Belgium’s illegal pet trade and given a new life in South Africa, how has the quartet of long-legged wild cats settled into their forever home?

An adult serval lying down relaxing amongst long grass and vegetation

Balozi (c) Panthera Africa

Two years ago, in March 2022, Born Free rehomed four male servals rescued from the illegal pet trade in Belgium. The foursome had been given a temporary home by our friends at Natuurhulpcentrum but, with the generous help of supporters and Etihad Cargo, we were able to give them a fresh start and wonderful new life in Born Free’s Rescue Section of Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary, in South Africa’s Western Cape.

Designed to hunt in Africa’s vast savannah, with sharp teeth and hooked claws, servals – like all wild animals – never make good pets. It is against the law to keep them in a domestic context in Belgium but, unfortunately, is still legal in the UK. Here, at least 53 servals and 42 serval hybrids are currently being kept by private individuals, among more than 2,700 animals held under Dangerous Wild Animal licences. Born Free continues to urgently call for much tighter legislation to safeguard wild animals and people from the trade in and keeping of exotic pets.

Meanwhile in South Africa, Mahaba, Kamogelo, Leykanya and Balozi – today aged between three and seven years – now enjoy the peace and beauty of individual, spacious natural enclosures. We recently spoke to some of the people who care for them – check out our new video below.


Lizaene Cornwall-Nyquist, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Panthera Africa:

“Mahaba, Kamogelo, Leykanya and Balozi all have got their own characters. We have learned so much from them and they’ve settled in so well. To think they come from being kept as pets at homes, living between walls, eating cat food, being walked on leashes, to seeing them here, thriving in a natural environment. It’s incredible to see how they have transformed and how naturally they love to live.

“Because servals are smaller, they get seen as domestic animals. They also purr. I think people don’t realise they stay a wild animal no matter how you ‘tame’ them. Each one of the four lives in their own enclosure. In nature male servals are solitary, you don’t get pairs living together. So, each has got their own bachelor pad and are just thriving.

“I want to thank Born Free and Taryn, my head animal caretaker, because the journey with these animals has been beyond what I ever expected. To see how they have thrived, how they grow and how far they have come in life, even though they were exploited.

“The biggest thing I want to tell people is that with their contributions – either financial or spreading the word – we create hope, movement and better lives for these animals and bring them out of those circumstances into a natural, dignified life.”

Taryn Shanna Blows, Director & Head Animal Caretaker, Born Free Enclosures, Panthera Africa:

“Mahaba is quite shy, he seems to be coming out of his shell a little bit more as time goes by, but he is incredible. He comes out for certain people; we have a little special spot where we sit every morning and he’s a magical boy!

“We do see a lot of the natural behaviour a wild serval would have; scent marking – a lot of it, scratching the trees! They’ve all got big trees in their camps and you can see the scratches, so they love it.

“Kamogelo, he is the most vocal cat we have, so you hear him before you see him, especially when he eats. He’s very vocal, and super handsome, and perfect! Leykanya is the youngest serval. He is super playful, loves enrichment, loves smells, he responds to smells really well. And water, they all tend to like water.

“Our last serval is Balozi – he is the oldest. He can be a bit shy and sensitive to different sounds, but is relaxed. He also enjoys eating in bed – he likes to take his food into his night house and eat it comfortably.

“It’s not a good idea to keep a serval in a house, it’s not where they belong. I think that people look at them and they see them as a cat that looks closer to a domestic cat, but that wild instinct never goes away. They deserve so much more.”

You can help

Please donate today to support our work to rescue, rehome and provide lifetime care for individual wild cats in need, and take action to support our campaign to persuade the UK Government to urgently review and improve the Dangerous Wild Animals Act.