REHAB DIARY: FROM HOUSE CAT TO WILD CAT

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Hamu came to the Centre in 2014. He was orphaned and was being sold along the road. Luckily, vigilant people picked him up and brought him to the Lilongwe SPCA. They realised right away that this was a serval kitten and brought him straight to the Centre.

Hamu's arrival.

 Hamu’s arrival.

Hamu was more humanised than other servals we have had so far. It is extremely hard to find a right balance between providing enough comfort for an orphaned animal and not humanising it when there are no foster mothers available. Unfortunately the Wildlife Centre doesn’t have any foster serval mothers, so raising one orphaned serval kitten is a real challenge. Although interaction with Hamu was limited and we gave him a lot of enrichment items, Hamu really focused on people and behaved like a house cat. Humanisation can to a certain extent, be prevented by limiting human interaction, however in a captive setting you cannot prevent this completely. Even with the best protocols in place, you will still interact on a daily basis with an animal. At the Centre we wear a blue outfit and cover the face which creates a uniform look when we enter the enclosure. This makes the animal focused on the blue outfit and gives less differentiation between different people taking care of the animal. The more differentiation you provide the easier animals can humanise. Additionally only a limited number of people are allowed to take care of certain species due to the fact that they have a tendency to get humanised quickly and are more difficult to dehumanise. Even with these protocols in place, Hamu was an exception. The character of an animal obviously places a significant role in this process, which is hard to overcome but should not be overlooked.

Ready to explore his new surroundings.

 Ready to explore his new surroundings.

Serval cats normally live a solitary life and are territorial. In the wild their home range can overlap, however servals normally avoid each other and research has indicated that males and females partner up during mating times for only several days.

For Hamu living all by himself in a natural environment was the first step to becoming a wild serval cat again. After he was weaned of milk, he was moved to a bigger, natural and specially designed and strategically located enclosure to start his dehumanisation process. The enclosure is designed in such a way that it has only natural elements in it, except for a couple of manmade shelters and is located in a rehabilitation area at the Centre. Hardly any people come here, except for the people taking care of him. Screens were placed around his smaller pen where he was being fed in order to give him even less visibility on who was feeding him. After months of keeping him there, results were good. It is generally known that carnivores can take long to dehumanise, depending on the character of the animal and the procedure that is used. Initially Hamu used to come to the fence and started meowing and even purring. After some time he stopped vocalising, but still came over and was curious. After even more time, he lost interest and didn’t even come over anymore. He started to hide and became wary when people passed by his enclosure.

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Definitely no longer humanised!

Now, it is December 2016 and Hamu is ready for the last part of his rehabilitation process. In the early morning the Centre Veterinarian managed to dart him. The results of his dehumanisation process are very clear, Hamu does not like any people around him. The anaesthesia went smoothly and we managed to bring him to the clinic where he gets his last check and a satellite radio collar placed around his neck. He is in a very good condition and he was woken up in his transportation box. Although he had to get used to his new necklace, the transportation and placing him in his pre-release enclosure in Kasungu National Park proceeded without any difficulty.

Fitting Hamu’s collar.

Before Hamu can step into his new world he will be kept for two to three weeks in his pre-release enclosure in order to acclimatise to his new environment. Still, he will be released this year and with his satellite collar now on, the Carnivore Research team will be able to monitor every step he takes.

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Back to the wild …