We are accustomed to seeing different eye colours in people and pets, but wild animals usually have only one eye colour typical of their species. Felines are an exception to the rule. We see a great diversity of eye colours in the 6 species of felines found around Entara’s lodges and camps.
Lions and cheetahs, which we see almost daily, conform to the rule and have eyes that are mostly limited to shades of copper, although due to the colour of ambient light, their eye colour might appear more orange or yellow.
On the other hand, leopards and our smaller cats, the serval, the caracal, and the African wild cat show a wide range of colours varying from blue to green, yellow, orange, copper, and dark copper that appear almost black.
To complicate matters, the eyes of all cat species change colour with age. When kittens are born, they are blind. They open their eyes after 3-4 days, and at that time, their eye colour is a beautiful blue. This eye colour is temporary. When they are between 6 weeks and three months old, their eye colour changes, as it does in humans, to their adult eye colouration.
Generally, adult eye colour comes down to genetics; the more melanin, the amino acid that controls the colour of skin, fur, and eyes, the darker the eyes. It is interesting to observe that melanin affects the eyes and fur differently. There is no direct correlation between the fur colour and the eye colour. For example, Manja, the famous melanistic black serval living in Olmara Camp has high levels of melanin in its dark skin and fur but yellow eyes.
Yellow eyes occur due to low levels of melanin. Interestingly amongst his offspring, we saw yellow, blue and copper eyes in adult spotted servals. Leopards and caracals both have blue and yellow eye colours from time to time, although green and copper are the most commonly seen colours. Albino cats do not have pink eyes like most other animals. In fact, albino lions sometimes occur in the wild and usually have light blue eyes.
Sometimes we see leopards with irises that show two rings of colour in the same eye, usually brown and green. This condition is called heterochromia and is much more common in human beings, sometimes resulting in different coloured eyes.
Next time you are on safari, try and check out the eye colour of the cats you see. No matter which species, their eyes are gorgeous. And, don’t forget to send us pictures as we document these to learn more about cats of the Serengeti.