Servals are normally tan with black spots, but an unusually dark animal in Kenya surprised photographer Sergio Pitamitz.
For Sergio Pitamitz, seeing a black cat was a stroke of luck.
While leading a photography tour in Lualenyi Camp, a private game reserve near Kenya’s Tsavo West National Park, on February 18, Pitamitz noticed a dark spot moving in the grass. His vehicle stopped, and he waited.
Within a few minutes, a jet-black serval a wildcat with a normally cheetah-like coat ambled into view of the shocked group before disappearing back into the bush.
When you do wildlife photography, you’re always searching for something rare and strange, says Pitamitz. It was absolutely incredible.
The animal is melanistic its genes carry a mutation that creates more dark pigment than light pigment, according to Eduardo Eizirik, a biologist and cat-melanism expert at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil.
Though melanism is common enough among wildcats it’s reported in 13 of the 38 known species the trait seems to be relatively rare in servals: There are just at several records of black servals in the scientific literature from Kenya and Tanzania, Eizirik says.
Additionally, there are recent unequivocal records of black servals in Ethiopia, Gabon, and the Central African Republic, according to Luke Hunter, president of Panthera.
Photograph: Sergio Pitamitz