The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens is welcoming two adorable additions to its cast of wildlife ambassadors, sibling African serval kittens. The brother-sister tandem of Baku and Cleo are part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan, a genetic proliferation effort to ensure the viability of the genetic code of animals in captivity (and an international hedge against the survival and sustainability of the species in the wild). The felines came to the Naples Zoo by way of The Idaho Falls Zoo in Tautphaus Park. At just two months old, the African servals made their public debut June 9 with Animal Training Sessions in the Safari Canyon Theater. Their appearances there will continue daily at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. for zoo guests to enjoy.
“At this age, Baku and Cleo are coming out to explore and play in the Canyon Theater,” explains Naples Zoo’s Director of Animal Programs Liz Harmon. “And that’s part of their training, to have fun being out where guests can appreciate these beautiful cats.”
The goal of this public training is not only to prepare the servals for the Safari Canyon Feature Show to highlight their natural talents like catching birds (toy feathers) out of mid-air and snagging rodents (stuffed animals) out of burrows (clear tubing), but also to give zoo-goers a chance to see the daily training processes of the zoo staff.
“It’s a great opportunity for guests to see training, as most of it happens throughout the zoo where they might not see it,” says Tim Tetzlaff, director of conservation and communications. “Training behaviors that animals normally do or modifying a natural hunting behavior is beneficial to maintain mental acuity, but that’s only the beginning.”
Every aspect of training that the staff engages in with the animals is meticulously designed and executed, and was developed with the mental and physical health of the animal in mind. The training also makes caring for the animals easier, allowing for a less intrusive environment. Some of the show “tricks” also serve as indicators for a biologist or veterinarian examining the animal, making care less stressful all around. By training the lions and tigers to do seemingly benign things, like standing up and lying down, keepers can perform examinations without having to subdue the animals. “All of this engages the animals’ minds and benefits their overall well-being,” says Tetzlaff. And the training sessions with the new serval residents is no different.
African servals, though cute and cuddly as kittens, are some of the most proficient hunters in the feline family, successfully catching prey twice as often as a pride of lions working collectively. Their oversized ears help give these deadly cats pinpoint accuracy when stalking their prey—more often than not, the first time a serval sees its prey, it’s in the process of nabbing it. Elongated metatarsal bones allow them to leap as far as 12 feet in a single bound, and have them standing nearly 50 percent taller than a similar-sized cat—a decisive plus when stalking prey in the tall grass of the savanna.
Baku and Cleo are the first servals to join the Naples Zoo in several years, and as part of the AZA’s Species Survival Plan, they are essential in continuing a strong, captive-bred genetic lineage, as well as ambassadors to their brethren in the wild. The more interaction zoo guests have with these sibling servals, the better chance these fantastic felines have at surviving in the wilds of Africa.
- The serval Animal Training Sessions will take place daily at 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at the Safari Canyon theater. Upon completion of the training sessions, Baku and Cleo will join the Safari Canyon Feature Show, scheduled at 11:45 a.m. throughout the summer.
- Admission costs $19.95 for adults, $12.95 for children.
- For more information, visit napleszoo.com.
Photos courtesy of the Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens