Africa Geographic Travel

An encounter with a serval and her kitten

Serval cat with kitten in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

© Praveen Siddannavar

There is nothing ordinary about the plains of the Maasai Mara in Kenya. Every frame holds the power of redefining the moment. From the million hues of gold and green grass, to the dance between the prey and the predator, the story woven around the circle of life in the land where the sound of the million hooves and the whispered wind holds the power of taking you back in time.

Three male lions in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

© Praveen Siddannavar

It’s the migration season – the greatest show on the planet. The lone acacia tree stands tall against the blue sky as the wind carries the scent of a fresh kill. Hundreds of zebras and wildebeest peppered with gazelles and buffaloes hold our attention. My camera’s viewfinder trains its lens to the cheetah that lazes in the horizon… its casual stance masking its hungry intentions.

Wildebeest crossing a river in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

© Praveen Siddannavar

A not so distant roar thunders, causing the herbivores to pause and cock their head – wary and watchful. A circle of vultures on a canvas so pristine and clear points the scavengers to the fresh kill. It’s a land where there is no beginning and no end.

Whispers of a serval, who apparently had just given birth, peppered our evening conversation. In all my years as an amateur wildlife reporter, I have never come close to the elusive cat. I have heard stories, but never had a chance to capture the shadow of the land on camera.

Black-backed jackal with carrion in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

© Praveen Siddannavar

Back in the thick of the wilderness, I trained my lens to capture a stalking leopard. Just as the viewfinder settled on the predator’s movement, the 4×4 roared into life – the guide said the elusive serval with its newborn was on the move.

The stories of the Maasai Mara are not simply woven around the Big 5, but of getting up close and personal with never-before-seen wildlife and experiences. It is about simply marvelling at the effortless way a million stories burst into life in that single frame.

Would this once-in-a-lifetime frame come alive?” was the question that flirted in my mind while the wheels barely touched the Maasai Mara soil. The wildlife reporter in me knew I was leaving behind an unparalleled story in search of another. But then, that’s the beauty of the land – there is a fine balance to the prose it unleashes.

Leopard at sunset in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

© Praveen Siddannavar

Amidst the tall grass, the serval mother was moving her kitten. Her movements seem ghostly, barely causing a ripple in the grass. Cautious of her surroundings, she wove herself through the grass with her kitten firmly held. Age-old maternal instincts guided her.

The stillness that surrounded us weighed in. It was a-once-in-a-lifetime moment – the Maasai guides had only seen brief glimpses of this cat, or heard whispers about it from their grandfathers.

Serval cat with kitten in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

© Praveen Siddannavar

My camera tried to capture the mother and her young kitten, though the lushness of the vegetation made her elusive. The shutter never paused but I knew the story was in vain.

But, the years amidst nature and her stories teaches you to wait… to pause. To let the animal know that you are part of the story. And the wait here was just that. Pin drop silence and a surreal stillness made the serval come out to the small, open grassland, never once letting go of her little one.

She stood still – looking me in the eyes and giving me a slice of her soul. She was a new mother who was on the move to protect her little one. A stroke of luck and the mystery that nature unleashes, she decided to pause and let us into her world.

Life isn’t easy for this mother for the next 3-4 weeks until her kitten is able open its eyes and walk on its own. The weaning period of newborns is around four weeks, and once the cub is 6 months old it will start to hunt and feed on its own. Eventually the juvenile will separate from the mother after approximately 12 months.

Serval cat and kitten running in the Maasai Mara, Kenya

© Praveen Siddannavar



Praveen Siddannavar

Praveen Siddannavar is an engineer by profession and a natural history photographer by choice. He is native of Belagavi, a city in the state of North Karnataka and on professional front works with KPIT Technoligies Ltd, Bengaluru as Center Head. He believes there is no meaning to wildlife photography if his pictures can't be used to protect or save them. Praveen has won several accolades in wildlife photography and his images have been exhibited both at national and international art galleries in London, New York, Portugal, Iraq, Dubai & India. He continues to travel extensively to document and report stories, especially on the endangered predators like tigers, leopards, wild dogs and birds.

Africa Geographic