With a perfectly camouflaged coat and solitary hunting habits, the serval is one of the Kruger National Park’s less frequently seen cats. A serval encounter is already cause to celebrate, but even more so when the wild cat has just caught a meal. One Kruger regular shares her special sighting.

Wild Card member and ‘Krugerholic’ Gillian Soames was overcome with excitement when, after more than 200 visits to the Kruger National Park, she finally spotted the elusive serval. To her amazement, the serval had just killed a snake. Her long-awaited sighting just got a whole lot better!

“At about 17:15 on 15 February my husband and I decided to pop out on a last-minute late-afternoon game drive. We were staying at Crocodile Bridge Rest Camp and had already enjoyed three days of great game viewing. We left the camp with no expectations as we wouldn’t be able to cover much territory before the gate closed. We turned onto the S25 heading east and as we passed the Hippo Pools turn-off, we noticed two stationary cars.”

As Gillian scanned the bush, she noticed a fluttering in the dense grass. “I assumed it was a raptor of sorts, but grabbed my binoculars in a futile attempt to check as the trees blocked the view completely. I asked the visitors in the other vehicles what they were looking at. ‘I saw a little cat with a snake,’ replied a British lady. Cat? Snake? This got my attention!”

Gillian and her husband’s day was about to be made. “We reversed our vehicle and my husband spotted the two pointed ears protruding above the wispy grass in the shade of an acacia tree. ‘I think it’s a serval! But I can’t get a good visual,’ I exclaimed.”

An anxious Gillian was scrambling to get the perfect shot. “A minute or two later a warthog sauntered past, causing the serval to sit up in alarm. And there we had the perfect sighting. A serval and a snake!”

Soon after Gillian captured the incredible moment, the serval tucked into the snake, lying down. Every now and again it would stand up to manoeuvre its kill and then lie down again. “The sighting lasted about 20 minutes and was suddenly interrupted when an opportunistic martial eagle swooped in. My excitement grew… Would the serval and the snake become prey?”

Very aware of the imminent threat, the serval knew it was time to hit the road. “It stood up and began to drag the massive snake deeper into the undergrowth. It was apparent that the serval was struggling to drag the snake due to its enormity. Thirty seconds later the bush enveloped both serval and snake. The end of a brilliant sighting. Up to this point I still had no idea what type of snake it was…”

Wild got in touch with Johan Marais from the African Snakebite Institute to pick his brain. “It’s a rufous beaked snake. They are quite common in the warmer sandy regions of South Africa where they spend much of their time in rodents’ burrows. It is a back-fanged snake and like sand snakes, its venom is of no consequence to humans. This snake is incredibly fast!”

Gillian concludes: “Sharing our sightings is a priority; we want to bring joy to fellow Krugerholics. Once again the Kruger had revealed something that we’d only dreamt about. We have visited the park regularly over the past 15 years (over 200 trips) and a serval sighting was high on our never-seen-list. Being a Krugerholic is incurable, and our condition is terminal!”

Did you know?

  • The serval has the longest legs of any wild cat. It uses its long legs to investigate burrows and even to catch fish.
  • The serval can leap up to 3m into the air. While it mostly preys on rodents, it can also catch birds in flight.