Lowry Park Zoo's newest animal ambassadors arrived in style from Boise, Idaho, snuggled inside a crate resting on a passenger seat between two (human) handlers in the main cabin of a Southwest Airlines flight.
The two 10-week-old African serval kittens were born in March in Boise and relocated to the zoo in June.
The charismatic kittens weighed only about a half pound each at birth and were hand-raised together by zookeepers. At eight weeks, they made the 2,000 mile journey to Tampa, where they continue to receive around-the-clock care from the zoo's animal outreach educators. The frisky felines are currently weaning from the bottle to a meat-based diet, and have grown increasingly more active and playful.
In the wild, servals are found in dense forests and savannas along waterways through sub-Saharan Africa. Although they are small in size, they are tall and slender with a tawny coat and black spots. Servals rely on their unusually large ears -- the largest of any cat species -- to detect prey in tall grasses and to listen for predators.
As outreach educational animals, the servals will not be on exhibit within the zoo. However, trainers will be working with the animals at noon daily in a temporary habitat to allow guests to see them up close while learning more about them. Zoo trainers will use operant conditioning and positive reinforcement training to encourage the cats to walk on a lead and demonstrate natural behaviors like leaping high in the air, pouncing, chasing and carrying objects.