An African serval kitten receives a meal from a handler at Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo. This kitten is one of two now being trained at the zoo.
TAMPA – Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo recently welcomed the arrival of two African serval kittens who will serve as outreach animal ambassadors for their species.
The 10-week-old felines were born in March in Boise, Idaho, and relocated to Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo in June aboard Southwest Airlines, snuggled inside a crate resting on a passenger seat between two (human) handlers in the main cabin.
The charismatic kittens weighed only about a half pound each at birth and were hand-raised together by zookeepers. At eight weeks, they made the 2,000 mile journey to Tampa where they continue to receive around-the-clock care from the Zoo’s animal outreach educators. The frisky felines are currently weaning from the bottle to a meat-based diet and have grown increasingly more active and playful.
As outreach educational animals, the servals will not be on exhibit within the Zoo, however, trainers will be working with the animals at noon daily in a temporary habitat to allow guests to see these captivating cats up close while learning more about them. Zoo trainers will use operant conditioning and positive reinforcement training to encourage the cats to walk on a lead and demonstrate natural behaviors like leaping high in the air, pouncing, chasing and carrying objects.
In the wild, servals are found in dense forests and savannas along waterways through sub-Saharan Africa. Although they are small in size, they are tall and slender with a tawny coat and black spots. Servals rely on their unusually large ears - the largest of any cat species - to detect prey in tall grasses and to listen for predators.
Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa, one mile west of I-275 (exit 48) and is open seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Parking is free. Visit LowryParkZoo.com or call 813-935-8552 for information. Also find the Zoo on Facebook and Twitter.