A photographer in the right place at the right time has managed to catch an extremely rare snap of a black Kenyan serval.
National Geographic photographer Sergio Pitamitz took this amazing image on February 18 in Lualenyi Camp, a private reserve near Tsavo West National Park, Kenya.
"When you do wildlife photography, you’re always searching for something rare and strange," Pitamitz told National Geographic. "It was absolutely incredible.”
Servals stand about 60 centimeters (23 inches) at the shoulder, around the height of a medium-sized dog, and are typically spotted like a cheetah.
In their write-up about the serval, National Geographic explain just how unusual this particular beast is. The serval in the image is melanistic – technically the opposite of an albino. This means the individual carries a genetic mutation that makes it produce more dark pigment than light pigment, resulting in a black coloring.
Melanistic servals have only been documented in six scientific studies and photographed a handful of times. Melanistic wildcats, as a whole, are comparatively common and have been scientifically documented in 13 of the 38 known species.
It can be a pretty good deal to be a melanistic cat, although it can bring its own challenges. Servals are primarily night hunters, so being as black as night has its obvious advantages when it comes to sneaking up on prey. On the other hand, black is not a comfortable color in the baking African savanna, as it absorbs considerably more light and heat than a spotted tan coat. Nevertheless, this photograph joins previous evidence that servals with melanism can survive and thrive in the wild.
Servals are notoriously elusive, so even seeing one is a treat. For a wildlife photographer to snap a black one in the wild is like Christmas coming early.