Melanin is responsible for giving humans their hair, skin and eye color. Melanocytes cells produce it with dark-skinned people having more melanin, unlike light-skinned people. The same case applies to animals, and once they develop an entire coat covered with black fur, then the condition is referred to as melanism. It is much rarer than albinism; therefore, any photographer who captures a wild animal exhibiting the trait should count themselves lucky.
The dark pigmentation plays a vital role in the survival of different species, especially those living in higher altitudes. It enables them to absorb more solar radiation thus facilitates heating up of the body quickly. Although it is more of a natural adaptation, humans have a negative perception of melanism since they believe black cats are a sign of bad luck. One person, however, thinks black animals are beautiful, and he could not wait to share his excitement for coming across a black cat. Here is the story of how George Turner, a British photographer, got the rare photo of a black serval.
Meeting a gorgeous serval
British photographer loves the wild, and he was camping at the Asilia Namiri Plains Camp, Tanzania, when something amazing happened. He saw a black serval and immediately used his Nikon D5 camera with an F4 lens that measures 500mm to capture the image. To him, it was a moment worth remembering because servals are rarely seen, but what was even more exciting was that the serval was no ordinary feline. It was black all over, displaying the melanism trait and was given the name “Manja” after the safari guide who first spotted him.
George explained on his Instagram account that servals are very shy and secretive animals; hence, taking their picture could take a long time. He also said it was a privilege seeing the black cat because, according to him, they usually are found in East Africa in highlands above 2000m. However, the camp he was in was at 1000m; hence, George concluded that the serval must have traveled from Ngorongoro Crater to establish a new territory. George added that nobody knows what causes melanism in servals since the “normal” ones are usually spotted. Some believe that since the animals dwell in forested areas, then the reduced sunlight exposure could be the cause. Even before Turner could take a second picture, the serval disappeared into the grass, leaving him with nothing but a photo to forever remind him of the rare incidence. Turner now hopes that Manja will find a mate saying that no female serval could resist the charming looks.
Is it the first black serval caught on camera?
As much as George is excited to have seen the rare black serval, he is not the first person to capture the animal on camera. February of 2017 was a month that two photographers would say helped define their careers; after all, it is the extraordinary that sets us apart from the rest. On February 8, 2017, Alison Mees, a camp manager at the Serengeti, was taking some photos of the wildlife as she loved to do when not at her camp. It was a lucky day for her because as she took an afternoon drive across the Serengeti National Park, she spotted a black serval in the long grass. Alison was not sure what she was looking at, so she took more pictures to get a closer look later on. To her surprise, for the first time since being stationed in the Serengeti, Alison had come across a black serval. Ten days later, another photographer, Sergio Pitamitz, had his stroke of luck while doing a photography tour at the Lualenyi Camp near Tsavo West National Park. He also noticed a dark spot in the tall grass, and since it was moving, he stopped and waited to see what it was. The group was pleasantly surprised to see a black serval for a moment before it disappeared into the long grass. As reported in National Geographic, Sergio was thrilled to see the animal considering how hard it is to see a serval, let alone a black one.
Why the black fur?
Scientists believe that melanism is a result of gene mutation. According to the experts, there is a gene called “agouti” that is responsible for the color of fur in animals, and if it mutates, then it loses the ability to control the fur color. Consequently, animals exhibit melanism, which presents itself as an entirely black fur coat. Melanism has been said to affect at least 11 feline species, and it is prevalent in male cats. When asked if the black fur has any particular importance in the lives of animals, the scientists claimed that it helps them blend with their surroundings. However, the theory is arguable given that tall grass will either be green or brown; hence, having black fur will not do much for the animal. Still, there is also the reasoning that it may protect the animal from infections. According to Stephen O’Brien, some microbes which attack cats could find the mutant genes less inviting hence reduced infections.
Are black cats a sign of bad luck?
In Egypt, cats were looked upon as supreme beings, and Egyptians went as far as worshipping the animals. It is not clear what made the felines go from being praised to being dreaded, but nowadays, seeing a black cat is as bad as having an owl in your backyard. They even are associated with witches, but it is all because when no one else wanted them, the old women took them in and cared for them. They say we make our luck, so blaming the cats for any bad fortune you may encounter is a bit extreme. Instead, we should embrace the animals, and since National Cat Day has recently passed, you might as well take some time to show your felines how much you appreciate them.