The Nose Knows

Most people are familiar with drug or bomb sniffing dogs as well as dogs that can detect cancers in people. Generally when it comes to scent detection it seems that dogs have the market cornered. New research recently published by the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science explains that our feline companions abilities are nothing to sniff at and, they may be just as helpful as dogs or better at disease detection in humans and search and rescue.

The average cat has about 200 million scent receptors while most dog breeds have much less. The exception is the Bloodhound which has been bred specifically to have a powerful senses of smell and comes in at about 300 million scent receptors or, the Beagle and the German Shepard which have about 225 million. Our four-legged friends sense of smell is very impressive when you compare it to humans who only have about 5 million olfactory cells.

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Cats are discriminating super sniffers using their sense of smell to communicate and also mark territory – Image – AllCat.net

So who has a better sense of smell? The ‘dogs’ vs ‘cats’ debate will likely continue, but it is generally acknowledged by researchers that cats will win out in the best sense of smell category. What makes cats good candidates and better than dogs for helping to sniff out disease or find missing people? Simply, the nose knows how to better discriminate between smells.

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When a cat grimaces or shows the ‘Flehmen’ response they  are taking in and analyzing scents via the vomeronasal organ. Image – Maxhouse.com

Out of the three families of receptor proteins in a cats vomeronasal or Jacobson organ only one has been studied. They are known as V1Rs, and it is believed that the “number of V1R receptor gene variants is correlated with the ability to discriminate between chemical stimuli. Research shows that tigers have 21 gene variants and domestic cats have 30, compared to the 9 functioning V1Rs that dogs have, which would indicate that some felids are able to discriminate between a great variety of chemical stimuli.” Additional research will be required on the V1Rs, and eventually the other receptor proteins V2Rs and FPRs, to find out the extent to which cats can discriminate between scents.

The basis of these finding could mean there is great potential for cats to be used in scent based working roles where dogs may not be ideal either due to size or environment. It would also benefit cats directly by providing humans with a better understanding of how to improve their welfare or implement better enrichment for them at home or in animal shelters.

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 Feliway™ the first synthetically produced pheromone used to help calm and reduce anxiety in cats comes in a spray or diffuser form. It is one way scent is already helping cats. Image – Daily Mail

There have already been a number of documented cases of cats detecting cancer in their owners and also sniffing it out in other animals. I had this experience with one of my own cats when one suddenly started sniffing around the bottom of our other cat who was diagnosed with a tumor in his colon a week later.

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Researchers say that these abilities are underused in cats but they may be better alternatives for medical scent detection or olfactory assistance animals for patients who are uncomfortable with dogs or rats. However, anyone who is owned by a cat knows, that just like dogs, they each have individual personalities which means that not all of them will be gifted with the abilities or desire to do search and sniff work. This leaves us with a final question that is probably on the minds of many as they read this. Can cats be trained? The answer is yes, but it will take patience, positive reinforcement and some really enticing food rewards.

The Science of Spots

Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories ‘How the leopard got it spots’ tells us that the feline had them painted on so it could blend into the forest ‘full of trees and bushes and stripy, speckly, patchy-blatchy shadows’. While we know that this is not true, he was close in his assumption in that the coat pattern is reflective of the cats primary environment – cats that hunt in open areas and are active mainly during the day, like lions, tend to have plain coats. Ones that dwell and hunt from trees, forested areas or at night, like leopards or jaguars, tend to have dappled, spotted coats, or in the case of tigers stripy coats.

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Connect the spots – Image – M-H JeevesChemistry World

It is known that coat and colors patterns like the leopards evolved for camouflage and, William Allen a researcher at the University of Bristol reinforced this theory after completing a study of coat pattern images from 37 different types of wild cats. The data from the images along with “information concerning the size of each species, its habitat, characteristic behaviors and more, was then plugged into a mathematical model of pattern development. ” It was determined that spots were most common in species that spend greater amounts of time moving in trees, and in those that are active at lower light levels.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – It’s all about genetics. Every leopard has a different pattern – female South Luangwa NP, Zambia

Beside environment, there are likely more factors involved which influence the coat patterns of wild cats as they don’t always exactly mirror the animals surroundings. A few anomalies include the cheetah, which prefer open habitats but have retained their spots, this is thought to be the case because they rely mostly on speed, as opposed to camouflage, for hunting. The overall consensus is that coat patterns seem to have evolved to correspond to environments as well as how the wild cats behave within their specific environments.

Allen told BBC News that “When you place cat patterning over the evolutionary tree of cats, you can see that patterning emerges and disappears very frequently within the cat family, which is kind of interesting – it suggests that perhaps particular genetic mechanisms can solve very different appearances of cats.”

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Image ©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Clever cats at home in trees and perfectly camouflaged in low, shady light – Male Leopard South Luangwa NP, Zambia

The leopards beautiful spots are more than skin deep and the mechanism responsible may have a lot to do with chemistry. Alan Turing a mathematician and founder of computer sciences, proposed that chemistry had a role in forming patterns like those on a leopards coat. In Turings only published paper on chemistry, he put forth a set of equations which attempted to explain the patterns seen on leopards. The elements in this process contained and ‘activator’ whose presence caused cells to produce pigmented black hairs and, an ‘inhibitor’ that would cause cells to create white hairs. If they were strongly different it would enable a pattern to grow. Turing was able to demonstrate mathematically that these “simple components could account for a wide range of patterns and, a subtle tweaking of the parameters could alter the pattern to create spots, stripes, swirls, splodges or other markings.”

Much later on Turing’s theory would be used by biologists to support the hypothesis about other patterned animals. Chemists would eventually recreate an example of Turing’s pattern in a lab using a gel which developed a pattern of “yellow dots on a blue background”. It is now acknowledged that the science of spots has turned out to be more complicated than first presented and researchers admit that it does not fully solve the riddle of how the leopard got its spots, even though the theory is still considered a major contributor to determining how patterns form.

For more on the science of spots I highly recommend taking a listen to the BBC Radio 4 Just So Science episode which talks about the science and math behind the patterns and reading Plus Magazine’s Some Just So Stories of animal patterning.

Jaguars of Steel

What do you get when you combine steel, sculpture and jaguars? Beautiful art that captures the spirit of the America’s largest and most endangered big cat.

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The Spirit of Macho B – Image Patricia Frederick on Facebook

Arizona based Equine Veterinarian Patricia Frederick, who retired to become a sculptor, creates an array of creatures out of steel. Although she initially concentrated on her first love horses, her extensive work includes the likes of dogs, cats, wolves and jaguars. She began her sculpting career working in clay then moved on to ceramics while obtaining a degree in painting. Later she took lessons in bronze sculpturing, and fell in love with it, but soon found that steel was more affordable and available making it her favorite material to work with.

Patricia tells the Tuscon Weekly that she doesn’t do “extreme realism, but rather takes a contemporary approach to capture “mobility and motion”. She starts by sketching the contours of the bones followed by an all-steel armature essentially “drawing with steel”.

The life-size sculptures completed in January capture the power, strength and agility of two very well-known jaguars Macho B and Corazón commemorating their lives as well as bringing much-needed attention to the plight of this magnificent cat that is literally hanging on by a thread. Macho B, who lived in Southern Arizona, was estimated to be about 16 years of age when he died surrounded in controversy. Until 1996 no jaguar to be seen in the U.S. and that was the first time Macho B, along with another unknown male were documented along the border.

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Macho B – Patricia Frederick- Image Granada Gallery

In 2009 Macho B had been caught in a snare set by researchers hoping to collar him, however things went very bad and he suffered greatly in a panicked attempt to escape. After 12 days he was found alive and recaptured but then “euthanized based on a diagnosis of kidney failure”. The situation read like a crime drama and The Arizona Republic reported that Macho B died from being mishandled and because he had become a victim and pawn “in a web of intrigue involving environmental politics, border security, greed and scientific egos.”

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Corazón – Image Patricia Frederick

Corazón, named for the distinguishing heart shape mark on her left shoulder, lived in Sonora, Mexico, in the Northern Jaguar Reserve 125 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border. She was poisoned and her body burned on a private ranch. Researchers found that the tracking collar she wore was also destroyed, she was about 8 years old at the time of her death, and had a cub that would not have been able to survive without her. While killing a jaguar is illegal and Mexican law protects them, it does not stop the killing and no one has been prosecuted for the death of Corazón or any other jaguar. She had first been seen in 2006 as a young animal would be photographed on camera traps 30 times during the next five years becoming an icon to those seeking to expand conservation effort.

Patricia’s work is not only beautiful it has a distinct purpose each piece with an individual story to tell. They are meant to draw the viewer’s eye and attention, encouraging people to think about the highly endangered big cat and the adversity they face from habitat loss and fragmentation, poaching, agriculture, persecution, misconceptions and finally border walls. The jaguars of steel will endure, but the real animal will not if the species does not get the support and protection they need.

Both sculptures can be seen on tour which goes through 2017 and, if you would love to have one to display at home either indoors or outdoors, they are up for sale with all proceeds from these unique pieces being donated to both Sky Island Alliance and the Northern Jaguar Project.

For more information and to help support jaguar conservation efforts or make a donation please visit either Sky Island Alliance or the Northern Jaguar Project.

Leopards in High Places

Many of the big cats are known for climbing trees to escape the heat, flies, to watch for prey or to escape other predators. It is not uncommon to see them taking to heights and, in Africa leopards are commonly seen hanging out in tall trees. Although lions have been known to do the same in certain places they are not exactly designed for tree climbing and come across a little more awkward compared to the fluid and graceful leopard who is naturally at home in the heights where they will stash kills, eat and happily sleep.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Salt Pan female hangs out and catches a breeze in a large tree – South Luangwa NP. Zambia

During my trip to Africa last year I was fortunate to have many wonderful leopard sightings both on the ground and up high, in fact over a few days all I had to do was look up to see these dappled beauties looking down at me. Of course, that’s when they weren’t busy enjoying a siesta or post-meal nap.

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba the one-eyed legend – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

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©Tori-Ellen Dileo – Kataba sleeping with a full belly – Puku Ridge South Luangwa NP, Zambia

While leopards are able to climb some very tall trees you might be surprised to know that at least one had made it all the way to the top of Africa’s highest mountain to take in a view that perhaps no other has. In 1926 on Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro, a frozen leopard carcass was found along the volcanoes crater rim by Pastor Richard Reusch, a Missionary for the Lutheran Church. The Pastor was supposedly the first to discover the leopard which would later inspire, and be immortalized in, Hemingway’s book The Snows of Kilimanjaro. The Pastor made sure to get proof of his find and cut off an ear as souvenir on a subsequent climb the following year, afterwards the leopards remains were reported to have mysteriously disappeared. No reason was given as to why the leopard would have been that high, approximately 18,500 feet (or 5638.8 meters), close to the western summit at a place that would be christened Leopard point, but Pastor Reusch had hypothesized that the cat had been chasing a goat since he also found the remains of one not far from where the leopard lay. Since there were no remains and no radiocarbon dating, the leopards age along with length of time it remained locked in the once famous snows of Kilimanjaro will also remain a mystery.

Interestingly, there is a reference that notes the first report of a leopard carcass on Kilimanjaro was in 1889 by a German Geologist and Geographer named Hans Meyer who had seen one not far from where Reusch would later spot his. Among some of the theories included the possibility that the leopard could have come from the Kilimanjaro Mountain  Forest Reserve and took a wrong turn, or that the leopard was pursued up to high elevations by local hunters as Meyer had seen a hunting camp nearby. Officially though, nothing has ever been confirmed and to this day there has been no explanation for either Meyer’s or Reusch’s leopard.

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Kilimanjaro stands 5,895 meters high, the leopard was found at about 5638.8 meters – Image – John Reader/Science Photo Library via Earth Touch News

It does seems that leopards had an affinity for the mountains and in 1997 another leopard carcass was discovered on Africa’s second highest mountain, near Tyndall Glacier, Mount Kenya. In this case there were remains, although very decomposed, which turned out to be enough for radiocarbon dating placing the animal at about 900 years old.

There are opportunities to see wildlife during the early stages of a Kilimanjaro climb at lower elevations, but those still hoping to spot a leopard on higher slopes shouldn’t hold their breath. The high altitudes that are reached during climbs are not ones that most wild animals can survive at and if there are any, most will do their best to steer clear of humans.

If you are set on a chance to glimpse a leopard in high places it is probably best to keep your eyes on the trees and maybe, you will be lucky enough to have one of these beautiful cats reveal themselves and all their spotted splendor.

The Jaguar and the Giant Anteater

The jaguar is the largest and most powerful feline in the Western Hemisphere. They have solid, compact muscular bodies with the males weighing in at 150 to 200 plus lbs reaching lengths of seven feet – without the tail. They have extremely powerful jaws and massive heads making them a top-level predator and carnivore that keeps prey animals in check thus helping to prevent overgrazing of habitat. They are often confused with leopards but their coat pattern is very distinct made up of a yellow or orange-colored coat with markings called rosettes.

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Jaguar coat                                                                                        Leopard coat

Jaguars once roamed from Argentina in South America all the way up to Texas, Arizona and California but were systematically wiped out throughout most of their natural range in the U.S. in the early 1900’s. With the exception of the few who make it across the border into Arizona, like the famous El Jefe who appeared on camera traps in the Santa Rita Mountains in Tucson, they are considered expatriated in the U.S. Jaguars are not fairing much better south of the U.S. border, Sonora in Mexico is thought to hold a breeding population currently, where they suffer from habitat loss and fragmentation, persecution from ranchers, poaching and hunting. Their numbers are estimated to be at 15,000 but it is unclear how many are left as they are highly secretive and elusive, perfectly camouflaged for the forested and woody areas in which they mostly reside.

Jaguars are loners, coming together only to mate, hunting and preferring to feed alone. They can take prey the size of small birds and frogs up to deer, alligators and domestic livestock. They are a formidable predator which knows no real threat from its prey while hunting except perhaps from the giant anteater. If you are wondering what would happen should a jaguar and giant anteater meet wonder no more. Footage taken via camera trap in the Brazil’s Gurupi Biological Reserve, as a part of a survey on jaguars, has revealed an encounter only talked about in stories, one that had never before been witnessed by humans. A giant anteater can weigh anywhere from 40 to 140 lbs, with an adult being about the size of a small female jaguar, and is a worthy and even deadly opponent when you consider their claws, which are twice as long as the infamous velociraptor. Anteaters are not aggressive to humans or other animals, but they will defend themselves if startled or feeling threatened, in fact they are responsible for the deaths two hunters in Brazil.

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Image – Giant anteater claws, which are very elongated in the second and third digits. Photo by Vidal Haddad, Jr. via ResearchGate

Researcher Elildo Carvalho Jr., of the Brazilian National Research Centre for Carnivore Conservation (CENAP) was the first to discover the never before seen footage while reviewing thousands of camera trap videos. Unfortunately the outcome is unknown as the camera was retrieved a month after the encounter and the video reviewed much later on.

 

In the southern Pantanal in Brazil anteaters make a small portion of a jaguars prey about  3 percent, but in the Cerrado, in central Brazil anteaters make up about 75 percent of the cats diet. Encounters can be very dangerous and Carvalho says it’s safe to assume that a jaguar would only attack by surprise or from behind and, that what happened in this video is the result of a surprise run in between the two species. He thinks that the two likely took a look at one another and then decided it wasn’t worth it and moved on, but there is no way to know for sure.

Despite there not being any evidence regarding the outcome of this particular video there is one photo, taken in the Cerrado, showing a jaguar carrying a large full-grown anteater.

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Image – Jaguar caught on camera trap with adult giant anteater in the Cerrado. Photograph: Edsel Moraes Jr. via The Guardian

Camera traps are allowing researchers a rare glimpses into the world of the secretive jaguar and how it shares, and is interconnected, to other species like the giant anteater. Jaguars although facing decline from dramatic habitat destruction and fragmentation, in the Amazon, the Cerrado and the Pantanal due to deforestation from cattle ranches and agriculture, are only considered Near Threatened. With loss of habitat comes loss of the jaguars natural prey which in turn can bring them into conflict with cattle leading to retaliatory killings from ranchers. Although commercial hunting and trapping has been reduced over the years, thanks to CITES controls and an Appendix 1 listing, they are still poached for their skins and teeth.

The wow moment like the one caught of the jaguar and giant anteater is thanks to the use of camera traps which are important tools in helping researchers understand jaguars in ways which they could never imagine. It doesn’t hurt that the general public benefits by getting a glimpse into an encounter that we would never otherwise have the opportunity to see.

A collection of camera trap videos from the CENAP survey in Gurupi Biological Reserve shows many other species, including rare species like bushdogs, pumas  and giant armadillos.

Healing Paws

What does a cat from Poland, Russia and Denver have in common? All three happen to be known for helping their fellow four-legged friends.

Rademenesa is known as the nurse cat of Bydgoszcz, Poland. He had come into the animal clinic with an inflamed respiratory tract, from which was thought he wouldn’t recover. However, the vet nursed him back to health and that’s when the clinic noticed something amazing.

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Image – Rademenes on Facebook @Rademenes.CatNurse

He returned the favor and began to comfort, cuddle and even massage other patients in the clinic. Rademenesa became the official, well-loved, full-time clinic nurse and mascot.

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Image – Rademenes on Facebook @Rademenes.CatNurse

Rademenesa made news around the world but he hasn’t let fame go to his head, he still practices his healing magic with great love on the animals at the clinic. For updates on him and his latest ‘patients’ be sure to follow him on Facebook.

Black cats seem to have a knack for this, and the next cat is no exception. Lyutsik the disabled cat who hails from Perm, Russia came into the clinic as a kitten after having been found with a damaged spine and, although his back legs are paralyzed he proved that his disability wouldn’t stop him from helping other animals.

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ImagePK Perm

Смотрите, кто приходил в гости к Люцику- это самый известный в Перми чихуахуа Чарли @charli_perm. Если вы помните, Чарли лечился у нас с грыжей в позвоночнике, был прооперирован, восстановился, и теперь уже Чарли себя великолепно чувствует. Люцик позавидовал Чарли, что у него много нарядов от пуховика до свитеров и предпочел оставаться в стороне🐒😜 Добавляйтесь к @charli_perm , следите за его жизнью и ловите завтра #языкповторникам. Look , whom met Lucik in the last week! It is our patient who had similar problem with the spine. In one day he stoped to walk. After operation and a lot of care from his parents, he is good again! Lucik was envy of clothes of Charly because he has a lot of different coats and t-shirts, and Lucik decided stay behind without big interest. Add Charli @charli_perm and look at his style🐶🐶👕👟 #люцикклиникаклык #чихуахуа #пермь#ветеринарнаяклиника

A post shared by Клиника Клык🐾Пермь (@klykperm) on

Lyutsik has also been a blood donor and knows exactly who needs extra TLC standing by while they get injections and cuddling and purring to help patients heal.

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ImagePK Perm

Lyutsik is adored by staff who are inspired by his compassion, resilience and joy he brings to all the people and animals around him. He can be followed on the clinic’s Instagram page Klykperm.

Last but certainly not least is a handsome orange tabby named Ron who came to the Northfield Veterinary Hospital in Denver as a kitten from a feral cat colony and soon started comforting new, scared and sick animals. Ron’s skills made local news when he managed tame a large cat that was labeled too aggressive. Ron apparently sat on the cats carrier and in minutes had the cat purring and playing.

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Image – Northfield Veterinary Hospital

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Image –  Northfield Veterinary Hospital

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Image – Northfield Veterinary Hospital

Ron’s story was shared early this year, but it looks like he may be officially retired from his cat nurse duties at the clinic. Northfield Veterinary Hospital recently posted a picture on their Facebook page in February showing Ron happily adopted and settled into his forever home.

It is clear that the healing abilities of cats extend beyond that of helping humans, and their healing paws seem to be just what the doctor ordered.

Wolf-Deer

Many years ago on a trip to Kenya I was very fortunate to see a serval on a night drive in Amboseli National Park. The image while grainy reminds me of how beautiful, elegant and perfectly camouflaged this animal is for its environment. It was the cats glowing eyes that gave it away and, as we stopped to watch, he or she turned around and gave one over the shoulder glance before silently padding off into the tall grass under the cover of darkness.

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The name Serval is derived from a  Portuguese word meaning “wolf-deer”  or “deer-like wolf”

Servals (Leptailurus serval) are a medium-sized lesser cat, not to be grouped with the bigger cats even though they have been called miniature cheetahs, weighing between 30 to 40 pounds. Some of their distinguishing characteristics include tawny coats with black strips, splotches, spots, and, large oval ears which enable them to detect the slightest sounds and target small prey animals in the grass or in the ground. They also have the longest legs, which make them excellent acrobatic jumpers and hunters, for body size of any of the cats and are most at home in grassland and moist habitats such as reed beds and marshes, but are found in a variety of habitats throughout Africa except tropical rain forests and the Saharan desert. In North Africa a few isolated populations are said to exist in both Morocco and northern Algeria but it is thought they number less than 250 individuals, isolated in vulnerable sub-populations of fewer than 50. Therefore it is generally recognized that servals are critically endangered north of the Sahara.

If spotting a serval is lucky then catching a glimpse of the very rare melanistic serval is magic and, there are only 4 locations in Eastern Africa where you might be able to have this experience.

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Image © Alison Mees – “Interestingly, the serval spotted by Mees was foraging in the lowlands of  Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park suggesting that either these black cats are moving out of the mountains, or they are spreading their melanistic genes to populations that live at lower elevations. We’ll leave that to the experts to figure out.” via Earth Touch News Network

Melanism is a genetic condition in which an animal has an increased development of black pigmentation in the skin and hair, and even though the cause of  the condition still remains unknown, it is thought that the darker coloration helps retain body heat and provide a type of survival mechanism. Many other feline species, including bobcats, have exhibited melanism and it appears in about 13 of the 37 known feline species worldwide.

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Image © Christian Boix – Melanistic Serval in Mkomazi National Park, Tanzania via Africa Geographic

Servals are typically a solitary species with pairs only coming together for a few days to mate. The female will give birth to a litter of kittens approximately 74 days later and about a year later she will chase her young from her territory allowing female offspring to stick around a few months longer than the males. Seeing two servals together wouldn’t be surprising if you happen to be at the right place at the right time, however if you happen to witness the meeting of a regular colored serval and a melanistic serval – that would be something truly special and rare.

This is exactly what happened to Jeremy Goss, conservationist and wildlife photographer, while on a night game drive in Kenya. It was unclear if this was a courtship or simply two servals greeting one another, regardless the photographs and video show an unforgettable meeting between the two cats.

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Image © Jeremy Goss – via Africa Geographic

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Image © Jeremy Goss– via Africa Geographic

Servals are listed on CITES II appendix, which prohibits international trade without a permit, and they are currently classified as least concern on the IUCN Red List. While they are not generally considered an endangered species they are suffering like all other of the wild cats.

The primary threats come from the bigger cats like leopards, dogs and most notably the ever-growing human population. Servals are poached for their beautiful coats, which are used for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, and even for their meat which is considered a delicacy by some African tribes. Fragmentation and loss of wetland habitat means loss of main prey sources like rodents, this in addition to the burning of grasslands, overgrazing by livestock and persecution by farmers, who consider them a threat to livestock, are also greatly contributing to their demise. Servals rarely take anything larger than a bird and do not pose a threat to humans but are often wrongly blamed for killing sheep and chickens.

Even though servals are not protected over most of their home range, hunting is prohibited in some of their range countries, there is no conservation plan in place but it is clear that any would be welcome to help better understand and ensure a future for this unique and elegant feline.