I bumped into this picture of a white serval on Pinterest and was immediately aware that the cat was a serval and being white he had to be extremely rare as this coat type is not mentioned in the best book on the wild cat species1. Black or melanistic servals are quite commonplace in the highland areas of Kenya and Ethiopia but white servals are not reported in the wild.
This is supported by Big Cat Rescue (BCR) who say that the while serval on this page is Tonga whose coat is due to inbreeding in captivity. BCR say that there are only two white servals on the planet and Tonga is one while Pharaoh is the other and both live at BCR.
As Tonga was born at BCR in the 1990s he might at the end of his life by now because servals have been known to live to twenty in captivity. He contracted cancer and had an operation on his nose and was cancer free for four years after the operation (and longer perhaps but I don’t have information on that). His nose leather was removed leaving him looking decidedly the worse for wear but healthier. It was feared the cancer would spread and kill him.
It seems that he contracted cancer because of the sun. Being white he is particular susceptible to skin cancer. I have discussed this in another post when discussing the topic of applying factor 50 sunscreen to the ear flaps of white domestic cats. Tonga was moved to a shadier area of the facility afterwards.
BCR were offered $75,000 for him but refused to sell. The offer to purchase was born out of the popularity of white tigers as commercial products to entertain the masses. The proposed buyers would have bred from him with the intention of making money from his offspring if they turned out to be white.
At one time BCR were criticised for breeding cats. They now realise it was misguided to try conservation in captivity. They agree that it is cruel. I am sure this has boosted their profile among the public.
I presume that when Tonga and Pharaoh die white servals will be fully extinct on the planet.
Note: 1. Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist.
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