EXCLUSIVE: Melanistic serval kittens spotted at Namiri Plains

By Asilia Africa | 18 November 2020

We have melanistic serval babies at Namiri Plains!


All of us at Asilia couldn't be more excited to share with you that Manja — the melanistic serval first spotted at Namiri Plains in 2019 by Asilia guide and naturalist of the same name — and his mate have produced melanistic serval kittens.


Melanisim is a unique trait carried by a recessive gene, making this all the more exciting because there was no guarantee that Manja's partner would produce black kittens. The kittens were first spotted by Asilia guide Alphayo Pondo, and then again by Asilia guide Stanley while guiding Kabel Morgan, the guest who kindly shared these photos with us.


According to our expert guides, the kittens are under two months old. The gestation period of the serval is 74 days (or 2.4 months), so by estimation, they were conceived sometime in the beginning of July and born in mid-September. Our guides are still working to determine the sex of the kittens.



Melanism is the increased development of the dark-coloured pigment, melanin, in skin and hair. Due to the recessive gene that causes excess melanin to be produced, the serval’s usually golden, spotted coat instead becomes completely black. In servals, this primarily occurs in East Africa, particularly in the highland regions, which are more than 2,000 metres above sea level. This phenomenon is known to scientists as the ‘thermal melanism hypothesis.' Animals that live in higher altitudes — and are therefore subject to colder temperatures — have a greater likelihood of being melanistic, so as to absorb more solar radiation, warm up more quickly and maintain their activity levels. The hypothesis also states that darker colours are favourable at high altitudes in order to increase protection against the sun’s UV rays.


At around 1,000m above sea level, Namiri Plains is located considerably lower than the normal altitude at which melanism is more prevalent. It’s likely, then, that Manja had travelled from the nearby – and much higher – Ngorongoro Crater, and established a new territory close to our camp.


We can't wait to see more of your photos of these incredible serval kitten sightings and show you all the the beautiful Namiri Plains has to offer.




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