On Sunday, 13 March 2022, four rescued servals started their journey to their forever home at Panthera Africa in South Africa.
This relocation was made possible thanks to the tireless efforts of Etihad Airways who provided the flights for the servals, and three organisations, Born Free Foundation, Natuurhulpcentrum and Panthera Africa.
The four servals were kept illegally as pets in Belgium before they were rescued.
As they did not have names, the four animals were temporarily named after the city they were rescued in – Kinrooi, Mechelen, Roeselare, and Diepenbeek.
The Belgian authorities granted custody of the servals to Natuurhulpcentrum, a wildlife rescue in Belgium, where a dedicated team have been taking care of them until their relocation to their new home.
As the centre is only a temporary for animals, it searched for a lifetime sanctuary home, until Born Free Foundation offered to relocate them into the Born Free Rescue Section at Panthera Africa Big Cat Sanctuary.
Born Free funded four new purpose-built enclosures and the Panthera Africa Team set to work to build them.
Lizaene Cornwall-Nyquist, co-founder of Panthera Africa, said: “We have been waiting for the servals’ arrival for nearly two years and the global pandemic has kept us from relocating these beautiful cats to our sanctuary.
“We are very excited to welcome them — both for them to be back in Africa and have a peaceful natural home to live in, and also for us, as these are the first servals that will be joining our pride.
“We are very excited to learn their behaviour and get to know them as individuals.
“And once again, we feel very honoured and privileged to work with Born Free and NCH, as well as Etihad Airways who sponsored the flights for this relocation.”
Andrea Donaldson of Born Free said: “It is extraordinary to think that, in 2022, we are needing to rescue and relocate servals, an African wild cat, from the European pet trade back to their ancestral home.
“However, after a long and complex process, and one that was made more difficult by the outbreak of COVID-19, it is amazing to know that these four servals will now be waking up in their forever home, bathing in the warm African sunshine and surrounded by the sights and the sounds of the bushland.
“Everyone at Born Free is extremely grateful to Etihad Cargo who looked after our servals in flight on their journey to South Africa and we know they will live their best possible life, given their unhappy story so far, in the care of Panthera Africa.”
Mariam Al Qubaisi, Head of Sustainability and Business Excellence, Etihad Airways, said: “Biodiversity protection and conservation is one of our core focus areas alongside decarbonisation and waste management.
“Etihad takes pride in its efforts to combat the illegal transportation of endangered species and, whenever possible, facilitate the repatriation of species to their native ecosystems.”
Martin Drew, Senior Vice President Sales and Cargo at Etihad Aviation Group said: “Etihad Cargo is pleased that the movement of the servals will be the first booking to be made using the Forever Home policy.
“The safety and wellbeing of animals transported on Etihad is vital and is guaranteed using the IATA CEIV accredited LiveAnimals product.”
The servals made their journey from Brussels, Belgium to Cape Town, South Africa in their crates in climate-controlled conditions on board an Etihad Cargo flight.
A huge thank you also to Zoo Air and their partner FG Customs for providing their services as the Belgium-based animal agents free of charge.
The serval rescue marks the beginning of a historic collaboration between Etihad Cargo and Panthera Africa, aiming to spread awareness about the exploitation captive big cats face and to support and promote animal welfare by ending exploitative practices, such as keeping wild animals as pets, cub petting, taking selfies with big cats, canned hunting, and big cat-based products, while encouraging responsible tourism, where people and animals can coexist harmoniously in a healthy ecosystem.
After veterinarian Peter Caldwell from Old Chapel Veterinary Clinic checked the servals at Johannesburg Airport, they were cleared and made the final leg of their journey to Panthera Africa on Monday afternoon.
Early Tuesday morning, they arrived safely at the sanctuary and were all calmly released into their new forever homes.
Lizaene said: “We have waited so long with great anticipation and a lot of excitement, and finally the day is here!
“We are so proud of the servals and how they, after a long journey, gently walked out of their crates into their night-houses, immediately took their first meal and a drink of water, and soon after confidently and curiously started to explore their large enclosures.
“This is the biggest space they have ever been in, so we are amazed by their confidence and trust already on the first day.
“We are very much looking forward to getting to know their individual personalities, and for them to fully settle in and form part of the Panthera Africa pride.
“We are so grateful to be able to give them a new chance at life, which is made possible through the wonderful cooperation with Born Free Foundation, Etihad Cargo and Natuurhulpcentrum.
“Today is a day of great celebration and achievement for all – both two and four-legged ones!”