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Diana L. Guerrero

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Animal Journal Entry: Sleepless With Servals
By Diana L. Guerrero
Saturday, December 13, 2003

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Copyright © 2003 By Diana Guerrero
All rights reserved.

Vegas again. We loaded up the servals and got an inkling of what the trip might bring. Kenya was uncooperative in loading and the cub, dubbed SW for the outing (since she was to soon live at Sea World), was very unhappy.

           She expressed her displeasure upon the toy cougar she slept with, biting it numerous times and hissing quite nicely. She also attacked the door on her travel crate to see if she could somehow manage to open it. Miss Attitude in a small package.

            Servals are an attractive spotted cat from the North of Africa that when fully grown, weigh 30 pounds. Most people think the smaller cats are easier to work with. HA! The truth is that the smaller they are, the more volatile they are. This is an adaptation that assists in survival.

                Anyway, for her tender age of seven weeks and her small size (fitting in both palms of my hands) SW sure had a lot of vigor! I suspected SW was very smart. But as a serval she was also very single minded. Her motto: "My way or I am going to have a fit!" A mindset that would turn out to be both amusing and annoying.

Just before the event, I volunteered to exercise SW--who's nickname, as a result of my experience, was changed to DS by me shortly thereafter. DS is short for Demon Spawn.

Before I let her out, I inspected the room. No hazards to worry about, but there were small entrances near the headboards that would allow our little critter under the beds and that would render her irretrievable unless we disassembled them.

            So, I put barriers up and released her from the transport crate. She was bouncy, pouncy for a bit. I noticed that she was hard to distract into something else. She was very focused. Usually you can distract young animals out of trouble and they forget what they were doing. Not this baby. She had a mind of her own! Our relationship began to shift. Auntie Diana is a strict aunt and stubborn. DS has an attitude not unlike that of her new aunt—stubborn with major attitude.

            DS eventually found the barricades I put up. She wanted to find out what was behind them and began to search for ways to overcome them. First, I removed her and attempted to get her into playing with the feather stick and her toys. Not a chance.

                At the next opportunity, she ran over and began her mission again. This time I stated “No,” and scruffed her to another location. She grumbled and ran straight back. Hmmm. Scruff and eye contact with a firm “NO” and into the crate. She hissed and spit and attacked her little toy cougar. I covered her crate for a few minutes and let her back out. Back to the barrier. She was just making sure about the rules.

ME: scruff, “no”, crate.

HER: hiss, spit, bite toy cougar and bite door.

So, I covered the crate and I went for a walk. In animal training lingo this is known as a “time out.” Upon my return, I promptly let her out again. She had already tested the parameters so I figured we would be okay--and we were for about five minutes before she went back to the barrier again.

                Just as I scooped her up, my colleague arrived and knocked on the door. I opened the door and as I did DS did the scratch and squirm. Since I had her cradled by the chest with her stomach resting on my arm, she shredded the inside of my wrist nicely before I scruffed her and placed her back into the crate.

            It was soon time to go and upon arrival at Caesars Palace we found Kenya back in a particularly nasty state. Our backup plan looked pretty reasonable and so DS was outfitted with her figure eight harness. She would be a handful if she did not get her way and we did not want to loose her in the crowd.

            Ambling around, I looked at the facility from the eyes of the critters. Not a good thing. The statues were stories high. The fountain was a hundred times bigger than the one we had used in some of the desensitization work we had done prior to the job, but that was not the issue. Kenya liked fountains since they were fun and reminded him of the streams of water from the hoses he like to play with.

            The issue was instinct. Threats to him could be the massive structures, the trumpets that would announce Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, the costumes, the drunken guests, and any other thing a wild animal might balk at when being fearful of their lives. Given his mood, this did not look good. DS was young enough that it wouldn’t matter.

            Kenya decided he would hunker down in the back of his crate and was not moving. He was aggravated by a guest who managed to push through into our acclimatization area to get a glimpse of the cats. Kenya felt violated and let the intruder know with a huge snarl and hiss. No way that he was going to cooperate at that moment; but we had hope. We managed to survive the trumpets, the procession and the obnoxious ISIS who was running all around the party. However, Kenya had made his final decision. He was not coming out. He would look, but he was not having anything to do with this party.

            DS was now named Cleo in order to entertain the guests and amuse us with our continued sick humor. She remained her DS self and attempted to get to the edges of the platform, jump me, bite the trainer, and assorted amusing antics in between playing, pouncing, and other such activities.

           Teeth and claws attached to a wild animal that is hyper and in attack mode seem to be enthralling to the public. Why is it that people always want to touch and animal or reach out to it when the animal is most likely to bite? We have to be polite and not offensive but what I really would like to say during those times is, “Yeah sure you can pet her. We all are secretly into severe puncture wounds too.”

           The party started late and ended early. Soon we were loaded up and on our way. Back at the hotel I opted for a relaxing bath, an indulgence I was looking forward to. To my chagrin the water was lukewarm, but there were bubbles and I was going to relax--or so I thought! Suddenly my colleague knocked on the door and informed me that DS was going to play in the bathroom for a while. Next thing I knew--DS was in!

           Much like the Tasmanian devil, she was off and exploring. Much to my chagrin she noticed me in the bath and decided that this might be worth exploring. Now, you have to understand my obsession with animal training. I could have done a lot of things. However, I decided that this would be a good training scenario and was going to take advantage of the situation--despite any injuries I might incur.

           I figured DS would not be able to get onto the ledge of the tub due to her size and the slickness of the material in the bathroom. Wrong! Soon she was up on the ledge. She didn’t like the water and quickly hopped off. However, it was too much for her to not to torment me and she quickly returned over and over again.

           I informed DS that she was probably going to fall in and that she would not like it. Also, that I would not like it since I would have to catch her and that claws inserted into my flesh in the process was less than appealing. I muttered a promise that I would catch her since it would be a good lesson for her--and that seems to have been my mistake.

           Just moments after my lecture, she jumped on the ledge and slipped into the sudsy water. I managed to catch her before she submerged and only got one long eight-inch rake on my thigh. I scooped her out onto the floor so she could assess the situation when my colleague decided it was time to retrieve her, dry her off and put her to bed. So, we attempted to retire for the night.

            Kenya was restless and made it impossible to sleep. The decision was made: load now so we could attempt to get an hour or two of sleep before embarking home. Kenya decided that the whole decision and efforts were not to his liking. Not that he had been in a good mood on this trip; he had been consistently foul and uncooperative.

           Negotiations with wild animals are tricky. They are fully equipped with claws and teeth and have no inhibitions against using them, unlike domestic animals. If you are an animal professional and have reared the wild critters yourself you have a better chance of success during negotiations…..usually. In this case there were several negotiation attempts. All failed. Suddenly Kenya was loose in our room. After a variety of efforts, thwarted by our sleepless stupor, we managed to finally get him into his travel crate and loaded into the van in the wee hours of the morning.

            Finally we could sleep! I struggled to wake up once it was light under a hot shower that pummeled my exhausted body. We grabbed some quality Java (thank God for caffeine) and hit the road.  On the long drive back I realized that I would remember this exhausting trip as, “Sleepless with Servals.” I smirked with the knowledge that I had survived another animal training gig.  As if answering my thoughts, DS hissed and turned in her sleep, cuddling her toy cougar.

       Web Site: Diana L. Guerrero

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Reviewed by Carol Chapman 6/20/2004
Incredible journal, I am awed by the thought of sharing a bath with a Serval. Your word pictures painted the bubbles, wet cub, and tired trainer perfectly. I hope your shredded wrist and nerves knit rapidly afterward. I've been to Vegas and seen the area you described and I bow my head in deep appreciation of your heroism in facing that with wild cats.

Reviewed by Karla Dorman, The StormSpinner 12/14/2003

i wish to go to africa, to see the wildlife in its natural environment...especially the cats (my favorite is the cheetah). i'd also like to meet the maasai.

fascinating, well documented piece--very educational and informative

(((HUGS))) and love,

karla. :)
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 12/14/2003
too interesting, and an entertaining read! have you REALLY been to kenya?? if so, i am JEALOUS; i would LOVE to go to kenya! (but don't have the $$ now to go; right now, i can only dream OF going to africa...*sigh*)! (((HUGS))) and love, your tx. friend, karen lynn. ;D (i'd go to kenya to see the wildlife--ADORE the cheetahs!--and see the maasai people!)
Reviewed by Mr. Ed 12/14/2003
Fascinating journal, Diana. Enjoyed this very much.

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