Serval Thrives at Petrochemical Plant in South Africa

We remember a few years ago Carte Blanche did a similar story of servals found by the Sasol fuel plant. 

Recently servals were discovered at Sasol’s Secunda Synfeuls which was surprising because the area is heavily industrialized. 

“This was a big surprise” said Dr Sam Williams, of the department of zoology at the University of Venda. 

Despite the highly industrialised nature of the site, the region’s serval population structure appears to be similar to ones found in the wild. 

Serval Thrives at Petrochemical Plant in South Africa
 © Daan Loock

For Dr Sam Williams, the findings illustrate how wildlife can do well in the most unlikely of places, even those that have been highly disturbed by humans. 

“In this case serval, a charismatic carnivore, are thriving in the shadow of a huge Sasol petrochemical plant, which is the largest point source of carbon on the planet.  Silver linings like this are becoming increasingly important as humans continue to degrade the environment in the Anthropocene” he said. 

The researchers, drawn from the University of the Free State, University of Venda, Durham University, and University of South Africa, spent four years documenting these cats, and the purpose of their research was to investigate whether an industrial landscape with varying levels of land and wetland modification could sustain viable populations of carnivores, their findings were published in a report in the international journal Nature.

“We think that the environment created around the plant, though disturbed, provide ideal conditions for serval,” explained Daan Loock, from the University of Free State’s Centre For Sustainable Agriculture.

The Sasol plant, which has a natural wetland within its boundaries, also supports large amounts of rodents for serval to eat while the fencing around the plant protects the servals from competition with other carnivores and from persecution from people.

Capture rates on both camera traps and live traps were remarkably high. 

Their paper documents how a camera trapping effort of 3 590 trap days  photographed a total of 61 unique serval individuals spanning three separate sessions. 

A separate live trapping captured 65 individuals, finding that the balance of males and females, and the balance of young and mature servals.

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