Serval (Leptailurus serval)
Servals are characterized by tawny, black-spotted coats and a long neck and legs to see over savanna grasses. They have large ears and an acute sense of hearing.
- Height: about 22 inches at the shoulder
- Up to 20 years in captivity
Servals eat a great variety of prey including rodents, birds, reptiles, frogs and insects. They catch much of their prey by leaping high into the air and pouncing but have also been seen reaching into burrows with their long forelimbs, or hooking fish out of water. They are quite successful hunters and seldom eat carrion.
- The serval is reasonably widespread and relatively common throughout Africa.
- There are 14 subspecies of the African serval.
- UCN: North African Serval: Endangered CITES: Appendix II
All others: Least Concern
Servals are found in most parts of Africa, with the exception of central equatorial Africa, the very southern part of the continent and the Sahara region.
Servals are common on the savannas where there is plenty of water. They seem to prefer areas of bush, tall grass and dry reed beds near streams, but are found in high-altitude moorlands and bamboo thickets. Black servals occur in Kenya's high country. The serval is mainly nocturnal, and in the daytime it can be difficult to see in tall grasses. When hunting, the serval listens for movement, head raised above the grass. It is even able to locate prey moving underground. Once a sound is located, it stealthily approaches, then leaps and pounces. It often plays with its catch before eating it. Servals lead solitary lives and come together in pairs only for a few days when the female is in heat.
- Mating Season: No defined mating season
- Gestation: around 70 days
- Kitten Rearing: Serval kittens are difficult to observe as the mother hides them well and frequently changes the hiding place. Because the female raises the litter alone, she has to hunt frequently to feed them. When the kittens are about 6-8 months old, the mother drives the males out. Young females remain somewhat longer, but when they become sexually mature they too leave to establish their own territories.
The spotted coat of the serval is sometimes marketed as "young leopard" or cheetah, and therefore attracts a hearty price on the black market. This, as well as the serval's proclivity for poultry raids, makes it a target for hunters. Consequently, servals are no longer found in heavily populated areas.
Natural Enemies (other than Human):
Hyenas, African wild dogs, leopards
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- Servals have a variety of vocalizations, including a high-pitched cry used to call other servals. When angry they snarl, growl and spit. When content they purr.
- Relative to body size, the serval has the longest legs in the cat family.
- Servals are proficient hunters. They have about a 50% success rate.
- Servals pounce their prey with a vertical hop.
- Servals have excellent hearing and can even hear rodents burrowing underground.
- Like most cats, servals are solitary, nocturnal animals.
- Ancient Egyptians worshipped the serval as gods, and kept them as pets.
- Servals are able to purr and also have a high-pitched chirp, and can hiss, cackle, growl, grunt, and meow.