Can you help Zira & Kovu?

Orphaned twin servals, Zira and Kovu, were rescued just over a year ago and their rehabilitation has gone very well. Now we want to help them back to the wild where they belong, but we need your help! Please read on and share with friends and family…

THEIR STORY…

In May last year, these two adorable serval kittens were found at a sugar plantation in North Malawi. Their mother was presumably killed and the kittens were lucky to have been rescued.

Servals have a protected status under the National Parks and Wildlife Act (2004) and are listed on Appendix II of CITES convention, which prohibits international trade of this species without a permit. Whilst there is no exact data on numbers of serval in Malawi, the population is known to be under pressure. Many cases are known where servals are persecuted and killed by people who often consider the animals as a threat to their livestock or confuse them with leopards. They are also regularly hunted for their pelt. Some kittens are captured and sold as pets but are later abandoned or locked up in cages when their new owners are faced with their ‘wild’ ways in maturity.

The brother and sister duo, later named Kovu and Zira, were taken to Tongole Lodge in Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve where the team cared for them until they were brought to Lilongwe Wildlife Centre at just 6 weeks old. With the ultimate aim of releasing them back into the wild, the rehabilitation process has involved as little human interaction as possible whilst also balancing this with their immediate welfare needs. They were initially bottle fed before being moved onto being bowl feeding and meat as soon as possible.

At just 11 weeks the orphans were moved to a big natural enclosure with a mix of tall and short grass, woodland and a large pool of water. Here they could explore and learn the rules of the wild at a distance, playing and hunting together, encountering a few dramas on the way – like spitting cobras!

As a side note, these little guys may look adorable, but they are a world away from domestic kittens – these are destined for the wild, with very wild tendencies, and they let us know it! So a big thanks must go to our animal care team and volunteers who were involved in their rehabilitation, it was no easy task.

Zira and Kovu were under observation every day to assess their development and their abilities to fend for themselves. With their long legs and large ears, servals are specialized small-mammal catchers and are well equipped to capture rodents in tall grass, but they also eat small birds, lizard, snakes, frogs and insects such as grasshoppers and crickets. Many of these animals were naturally present in the enclosure and both of the twins showed typical cat hunting skills – once they had located an animal in the grass, they usually stalked the animal for a while, lying down on the ground, approaching it very slowly. Then, when being near enough, the servals lept in the air, hitting the prey with their both front paws.

A year on, we are delighted with their progress and have every hope that they have a bright future in the wild where they belong. So, what next?

THE PLAN…

To give Zira and Kovu the best chance of survival the release needs to be planned and executed very carefully. We have selected Kasungu National Park, the second largest park in Malawi. The vegetation of Kasungu consists mainly of Miombo woodland with several grassy river dambos going through the park. It is mainly these dambos which are ideal habitat for serval cats because of their vegetation and abundance of food. Within the park the most ‘perfect’ site has been chosen, taking into account everything from water sources to coverage for daytime hiding, availability of prey and distance from human settlements.

The servals will have a ‘soft release’ meaning that they will gradually be returned to the wild, spending time first in a release enclosure in the chosen area where they can familiarize themselves with the sights, sounds and smells of the environment. Once the doors are opened the pair can return to find food and shelter if they feel the need until they are able to take care of themselves entirely.

The post-release monitoring will be run by Dr Emma Stone, a carnivore specialist with over 15 years experience who will be able to track things like their home range, daily activities and habitats visited, thanks to their GPS collars. With the use of satellites these collars are registered every hour with the exact position of the animal, in which direction the animal is moving and how fast – very clever stuff. This help us to both monitor the welfare and progress of Zira and Kovu and also help to inform future releases, not just our own but those of other wildlife organisations.

HOW YOU CAN HELP…

Unfortunately doing the job properly isn’t cheap! But we feel that getting this right is well worth the effort both for welfare and conservation purposes. We have managed to raise half the money so far which has covered the release enclosure and one of the GPS collars thanks to private donations and through the generosity of the Born Free Foundation. However we still need to raise another $3,500 which will cover the final GPS equipment, fuel and research camp equipment.

ANYTHING you can donate would be hugely appreciated. You can do so in two ways:

1) via our the Lilongwe Wildlife Centre’s page here: http://www.lilongwewildlife.org/index/get-involved/donate/

2) or even better by direct bank transfer, details being:

Bank Name: Barclays Bank
Bank Address: 74 East Street, Chichester, PO19 1HT. Mail Area 63. EnglandBank Sort Code: 20-20-62 (for UK)
SWIFT code: BARCGB22
Account Name: Lilongwe Wildlife Centre
Account Number: 00 425 931
IBAN: GB80 BARC 2020 6200 425 931

Please just put serval release in the title and email Jasper on animalcare@llwc.org to let them know what you have donated.

Thanks for your support!

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