It is no coincidence that they have been in the news more often recently. A striking number of reports have been received by the AAP Foundation this year, says spokesperson Peter de Haan. Ten times more than last year.
“Recently an owner of two servals called. They only wanted to fight each other. That’s why she locked one in the bathroom. She didn’t dare to get to it anymore.”
It gives a bit of a picture of what kind of animals we are dealing with. A serval is smaller than a tiger but bigger than a cat. It normally lives on the African savannah. They are hunting animals, like all felines. Tiger cat, it is called in Italy.
Why the animals are suddenly so popular? At AAP they don’t know. “It may be because people have more time to sit at home.”
People may also get the idea from celebrities like Justin Bieber. He recently bought a savannah, a cross between a serval and a house cat. He even gave them your own Instagram account. “Apparently people find that exciting appearance attractive. A savannah is a bit easier to handle, a bit tamer, but also very expensive.”
Betty Hagebeek has six servals
Betty Hagebeek owns six servals. “A serval is a very nice animal to keep,” she says. She too has seen the reports of the escapes. Such an escape is because an owner is not paying attention, she says. “Some people think too easily that you can just keep those animals at home.”
Hagebeek is chairman of the Savannah Cat Association Netherlands. She always advises putting the cats in a cage with a double door, with a lock in between. Because yes, these animals are ‘smart and fast’. “They slip right in, just like a cat.” This has happened to her herself, she could just prevent an escape through the lock.
The AAP Foundation points out that it is allowed in the Netherlands to have a serval as a pet. And they are not happy about that. For several reasons. Servals can be aggressive towards humans and recently a serval took a neighbor’s rabbit.
Even small children are not safe, says spokesman De Haan. “I wouldn’t risk it. A male grows to 80 centimeters and has considerably larger teeth than the domestic cat.”
‘Dog can bite too’
Hagebeek knows the dangers, but thinks the stories are a bit exaggerated. “Unknown is unloved,” she says. She points out that the servals in the Netherlands are not the same as those living in Africa. “They have been bred here from generation to generation. They are therefore much more focused on people. Once grown up, those wild traits can still surface, but that is the same with a dog. If you do not treat a dog properly,” it can also bite. “
Yet there is a difference, says AAP. Humans have been living with dogs and cats for tens of thousands of years. These species are totally adapted and dependent on humans. You can’t say that about the servals yet.
Hagebeek would regret it if servals were banned. You can keep them, if they are done in the right way, she emphasizes a few times.
She sometimes sees that people have the servals inside the house. That is indeed not the intention. A serval can live indoors for a while, but only when the cat is still young. “Once he is an adult he really has to go outside.”
At Stichting AAP they hope that the popularity of the serval will not continue. “The bad thing is: they look cute and cuddly when they are little. When they are grown up they become difficult.”
There are plenty of animals that are great fun to keep, says the spokesperson. “You can’t just take a serval like that on your lap. What’s the use of putting it in a cage in the garden?”
‘In theory you can buy a zebra’
In the Netherlands, the rule now applies that you can keep anything, except endangered species, primates and a few other species. “In theory you can buy a zebra.”
AAP Foundation is in favor of a positive list: a list of animal species that are suitable and allowed as pets. Animal species not on that list are automatically prohibited from keeping, or only under very specific conditions. The Netherlands is in the finalizing phase of legislation regarding this positive list. “It is already there in Belgium and the serval is now banned there. We expect it to be introduced in the Netherlands next year.”