Type “serval” into an online search engine and the top entry will be the Wikipedia page for this spotted cat of Africa. One can easily learn about their wide range across Africa; how they have a long body, small head, and large ears; their hunting habits, prey, and diet; and their threats and conservation needs. Listed among the threats are loss of habitat, trade in skins, and animals being killed in conflict with livestock herders.
Interestingly, what’s missing from this discussion is the use of servals in the exotic pet trade.
What’s particularly intriguing is that the second entry when searching online for “serval” is the link to a page offering serval kittens for sale. And, the third entry is about caring for pet servals.
Ensessakotteh, Born Free Foundation Ethiopia’s Wildlife Rescue, Conservation, and Education Centre, has just taken in another serval. At only a few months of age, he was illegally captured from the wild in the forest near Goji, Wadera. He was tethered with a rope, dehydrated, and hungry: destined for the exotic pet trade.
Now named Wadera, he has a chance at rehabilitation and ultimately a return to the wild, thanks to the expert caregivers on site. The restorative work done at Ensessakotteh is remarkable: lions from dilapidated zoos in the country, orphaned hyenas, primates used as attractions to lure people to restaurants, and cheetahs snatched from the wild and destined for the pet trade in the Middle East.
Protecting animals in the wild in Ethiopia is hard; there are so many threats and so few resources.
That said, looking at the situation globally — even in comparatively wealthy countries like the U.S. — the challenges are obvious. In the U.S., there are horrible roadside zoos from coast to coast that shamefully exploit animals for public display … and for money. Many of these facilities are even licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We have “conflict” with bears raiding trash cans and deer wandering residential streets as we encroach on their habitat. We have a tiger in a Louisiana truck stop to entice people to fill their tanks there. And, we have wild animals captured from nature and bred in captivity to feed the domestic exotic pet trade.
Wild, Not Pets
Right here in the U.S., just like in Ethiopia, servals are exploited as pets — and it’s a terrible situation. According to the Born Free USA Exotic Animal Incidents Database, there are literally dozens of stories involving animals like Wadera.
In Nevada, Connecticut, North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana, New York, and other states, servals are treated horribly. Servals were among the animals removed from a Nevada home, where they were locked in bedrooms and bathrooms, with urine and feces everywhere. Meanwhile, a serval escaped a North Carolina home to be recaptured four days later, thankfully avoiding being slaughtered in the streets. Story after story shows these animals kept in inappropriate conditions, put at risk, harmed, or killed.
Born Free USA has long campaigned to end the trade in exotic animals as pets. We work for change across the U.S. and internationally. The Born Free USA Primate Sanctuary in Texas is home to many monkeys who were confiscated or relinquished from the pet trade. Just this month, we retrieved a pet vervet monkey named Mikey from a home in Alabama and will now give him lifetime care. At Ensessakotteh, monkeys receive the same compassionate care … and so do servals, including the new addition, Wadera.
Bottom line: there are too many exotic animals in need of rescue. We will rescue every one we can. The best solution, however, is to stop the exotic pet trade, once and for all.