A super rare melanistic serval has been discovered in the Namiri Plains area of the eastern Serengeti, Tanzania.

For regular safari goers, seeing a serval is something that is usually high on your bucket list because finding them is no easy feat. They’re small, spotted and secretive cats that tend to live in tall grass. The perfect recipe for staying well-hidden.

Melanism is the increased development of the dark colour pigment ‘melanin’ and in servals primarily occurs in East Africa, usually in the highland regions over 2000m above sea level. Which is what makes this sighting even more special.

At around 1000m, the Namiri Plains are considerably lower than the normal altitude where melanism is more common. It’s likely that this particular serval travelled from the nearby Ngorongoro Crater in order to establish a new territory.

Nobody knows exactly why melanism occurs but some think the increased altitude (and forested habitat that comes with it) reduces exposure to daylight, which creates an environment more suited to darker animals and encourages melanism.

There’s no guarantee that ‘Manja’ (named after the guide who first spotted him) will produce melanistic kittens, as melanism is carried by a recessive gene and it could be years before any more begin appearing in the area.