Akida, the male serval at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo, in on temporary loan to the Little Rock, Ark., zoo in hopes that he will mate with their female serval. Zoo Supervisor and Curator Sara Hamlin said breeding the long-legged, speckled African wild cats in captivity is part of their Species Survival Plan (SSP) through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Akida was brought here in 2013 from New Zealand, which means his genetics are new to the United States, Hamlin said. He is on loan to Arkansas for a year.
There were always hopes that the Great Bend zoo would find a female to mate with Akida. In November of 2016, the zoo acquired Sheba, a 5-year-old female serval. But although they share an exhibit space, Sheba never seemed that interested.
Sheba is a former pet that came to the Great Bend zoo at the recommendation from the Serval SSP. She had lived in a family home since she was a small cub. When the family was forced to relocate for a job they found out that they could not legally own her in their new state, so she was surrendered to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Sheba spent her first month at the Great Bend zoo in a 30-day quarantine that is mandatory for all new animals. Then zoo staff moved Akida down to quarantine to meet her.
“Due to her unconventional upbringing the introduction process was a very slow one, as Sheba has never been around another serval before,” Hamlin said in 2017. “She needed a lot of time to adjust to her new housemate. We also had to be very cautious during their introductions because Sheba had been declawed, leaving her at risk for serious injury if Akida had become too aggressive with her. Fortunately, Akida was a perfect gentleman and gave her the space she needed to adjust to his presence — all the while expressing his interest in getting to know her.”
Servals are medium-sized wild cats with black-spotted coats. Their long necks and long legs allow them to see over savanna grasses. They typically weigh 15-40 pounds and grow to a length of 23-36 inches, with an extra 16 inches of tail. Hunted for their beautiful hide, servals are still common in many parts of Africa but are extinct in the southern part of the continent and very rare in the Sahara region, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.
The Species Survival Plan is a cooperative animal management program between AZA Accredited Zoos. Although the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo has stopped working toward AZA accreditation, it attempts to maintain the association’s standards. The SSP program began in 1981 as a cooperative population management and conservation program for selected species in zoos and aquariums in North America. Each SSP manages the breeding of a species in order to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable.