This is a really excellent photograph of a black (melanistic) serval in the wild taken by British wildlife photographer George Turner. He used a Nikon D5 camera with a 500 mm, F4 lens. The Nikon D5 is a full frame professional DSLR camera. As you can see from his record of the encounter, he was thrilled because black servals are rare and to get a good photo is even rarer. Well done to him.
He took the photograph in the Asilia Namiri Plains Camp in Tanzania. A guide who accompanied Turner said that this cat has been given the name of “Manja”. Quora.com tells me that ‘Manja’ means pampered or spoilt.
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The black serval. Can't describe how mind-blowing this was… and still is. For context, even seeing a “normal” serval is tough. They’re shy, secretive cats that tend to live in tall grasses — the perfect combination for staying unnoticed. Every time I’ve been privileged enough to see them, my heart skips a beat. Melanism (increased development of the dark-coloured pigment melanin in skin/hair) in servals primarily occurs in East Africa, particularly in the highland regions over 2000m, which is what makes this sighting particularly special. At around 1000m, the Namiri Plains, Tanzania, are considerably "lower" than the normal altitude were melanism is more prevalent. It's likely this particular serval travelled from the nearby – and much higher – Ngorongoro Crater and established a new territory. Nobody *really* knows why melanism occurs in servals. Some think the increased altitude (and forested habitat that comes with it) reduces exposure to daylight, encouraging melanism. There’s no guarantee that “Manja” (named after the guide at @asiliaafrica who first spotted him), should he find a mate, will produce melanistic kittens. As melanism is carried by a recessive gene, it could be years before any begin appearing in the area. The hope, for now, is that he continues to flourish in the grasslands and build on his territory. Also, what serval could resist those charming good looks?! [D5, 500mm f/4]
Some info about the black serval in Africa
Mel and Fiona Sunquist report in their Wild Cats of the World (2012) that:
“…Black or melanistic servals occur quite frequently in the highland areas of Kenya and Ethiopia.“
W.A. York reported in ‘A study of serval melanism in the Aberdares and some general behavioural information‘ in The World’s Cats vol 1. that 21 different servals were identified of which no less than eight were ‘almost completely black’. Five more had coats that were in various degrees of melanism.
Most black servals are seen at relatively high above sea level; between 2,440 and 2,745 feet. The serval is only seen in Africa. This medium sized wild cat, standing about 60 cms at the shoulder (Turner describes the cat as small but I’d disagree), has fairly specialised habitat requirements: grassland.
They are found in all types of grassland, vegetation and reed beds near water (marshes). They can live in places where watercourses penetrate dryer areas but are not found in desert of semi-desert.
At higher altitudes it can get cold but this does not restrict this cat’s distribution provided there is enough food, water and cover. The serval is found in the Kamberg Nature Reserve and surrounding areas in Natal where average minimum temperatures in midwinter are 0.7 degrees celsius and where there is heavy frost. In cold conditions servals curl up and conserve energy by letting the body temperature lower.
Black servals are not called black panthers. That name is reserved for the melanistic big cats: leopard and jaguar and sometimes the puma.
SOME MORE ON THE SERVAL…