I took this photo on a recent visit to Mogo Zoo on the south coast of NSW.

Although small, the zoo is a neat and well-run establishment that boasts, among a number of interesting exhibits, a pride of white lions bred from individuals with a rare mutation that occurs on occasion in and around the Kruger National Park in South Africa.

Clearly the photo is not of a lion but an advertisement for a zoo experience. For $200 you can spend some time petting a serval (Leptailurus serval), an equally magnificent African cat similar, if somewhat larger and with longer legs, than the domestic variety. Servals are relatively common and widespread in sub-Saharan Africa and specialize in pouncing on rodents in the long grass of the savannas.

And here I have to admit to a huge contradiction in my head, for I have had the privilege of seeing serval in the wild. When in their element they are just as magnificent as any of their bigger cousins.

It was easy to conjure from memory the image of the cat in the grass lit by the orange glow of the sunrise, standing alert with an indescribable sense of belonging.

So my gut response to the advert was that no amount of enclosure landscaping or attention to the visitor experience could come close to the truth of seeing these animals where they should be.

Then I saw the look on the visitors face.

I realized that you do not need to go to Africa to find the truth.

Funny that.

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