Serval facts, pictures, video and in-depth information. Discover this amazing African wild cat!

Serval facts, pictures and information. Beautiful yet deadly, the long-legged serval is one of nature’s most efficient predators …

Serval Facts At A Glance

  • Other Name(s): Tierboskat, giraffe cat
  • Scientific name: Leptailurus serval
  • Type of Animal: Mammal, member of the order Carnivora.
  • Animal Family: Felidae (The cat family)
  • Where Found: Africa
  • Head-Body Length: 67 to 100cm (26 to 39in)
  • Tail Length: Around 30cm (12in)
  • Shoulder Height: 54 to 62cm (21 to 24in)
  • Weight: 9 to 18kg (20 to 40lb)
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Other interesting serval facts

  • The serval is the world’s second fastest cat, able to reach speeds of 45 mph (72 km/h).
  • Unlike most other cat species, the serval is at ease in water and will catch fish with its paws.
  • The serval is an extremely efficient hunter, and is successful in 50% of its hunting attempts.
  • In relation to body size, the serval has the longest legs and biggest ears of any cat!

Meet The Serval: Introduction

serval cat in grass

The serval is a wild cat that is found in many parts of Africa. Its closest relatives are the caracal (Caracal caracal) and the African golden cat (Caracal aurata). The serval is the only member of its genus, and up to 18 subspecies (types) are recognized.

  • You can see a list (with photos) of every living wild cat species here: Wild Cats List.

What Does The Serval Look Like?

The serval can be recognized by its slender build, small head and relatively large ears, together with the long legs and long neck that have earned the species its nickname ‘giraffe cat’.

serval stretching

The serval’s long legs and neck give it the nickname ‘giraffe cat’.

The serval is a medium-sized cat, standing at around the same height as a domestic dog such as a Labrador, but weighing significantly less.

The serval is around 54 to 62 cm (21–24 in) tall at the shoulders and weighs 8 to 18 kg (18–40 lb.). Males are somewhat larger than females.

The serval’s coat is yellowish buff in color and marked with black spots and stripes. The pattern is highly variable, with servals from grassland habitats tending to have the largest spots. The serval’s undersides are white.

The serval’s short tail is marked with black rings and has a black tip. Its eyes are either green or brown.

As with other wild cats such as leopards and jaguars, melanistic (black-coated) servals have also been observed.

The serval’s long legs and slender build allow it to reach speeds of up to 45 mph (72 km/h). It is the world’s second fastest species of cat; only the cheetah is faster.

You can see excellent footage of the serval in the wild in the video below:

Distribution

The serval is only found in Africa. In northern Africa the species is rare and only occurs in Morocco and Tunisia (where it has been reintroduced).

In sub-Saharan Africa (i.e. the area south of the Sahara Desert), the serval is widespread, the only habitats in which it is not present being tropical rainforests and deserts.

Habitat

serval cat in grass

The serval cat is usually found in habitats with plenty of cover.

The serval has a strong preference for habitats with both plenty of water and some vegetation to provide cover; the species is most often found in wetlands and well-watered savanna habitats.

The serval is fairly adaptable, however, and may also be found in a variety in other habitats, including open woodlands, bamboo thickets, farmland and alpine grasslands.

Servals aren’t usually found in areas with altitudes of over 3,800m (12,500ft).

Behavior

The serval is a solitary species and usually avoids other individuals. It tends to be most active around dawn and dusk, though activity may also extend later into the night or day.

Both male and female servals establish a territory which is marked with feces (droppings), urine and saliva. Territories typically range in size from 10 to 32 km2 (4 to 12 mi2) and may overlap considerably: a male’s home range usually contains those of several females.

Aggression between individuals is rare and servals will simply evade each other whenever possible. However, if an aggressive encounter can’t be avoided, servals will bare their teeth and yowl at one another.

Servals use a range of other vocalizations, including purring, growling, ‘chirping’ and meowing.

Breeding

serval with kittens

Female serval with kittens. Notice the white spots on the back of the ears. These are present in many cat species, including the tiger!

Servals typically mate once or twice per year. The female’s estrus (readiness to mate) may last up to 4 days and can occur any time of year, though most commonly in spring.

Females attract males in the vicinity by urine marking and vocal signals.

The gestation (length of pregnancy) lasts 2 to 3 months, after which a litter of 1 to 4 kittens is born. This usually takes place in an abandoned burrow or in dense vegetation.

At birth, the kittens weigh about 250g (9oz). They are born blind and without distinct markings. Their eyes remain closed for up to 2 weeks.

The female raises her litter alone. The kittens are weaned at around 1 month of age. At 6 months their permanent canines have appeared and they start to hunt alone.

The young leave their mother once they’re about 12 months old.

What Do Servals Eat?

serval cat black and white

The serval is a carnivore (meat eater), the bulk of its diet (an estimated 80 to 97%) being made up of rodents such as the vlei rat (Otomys irroratus).

The serval may also eat small birds, frogs, reptiles, large insects, crabs and fish, as well as small amounts of grass to help with digestion.

Most of the serval’s prey animals weigh under 200g (7oz). Occasionally it targets larger animals such as hares, flamingoes and young antelopes. Scavenging behavior has also been observed, but is rare.

Using its large ears, which can rotate up to 180 degrees independently of one another, the serval can accurately pinpoint the location of a small animal in tall grass.

The serval typically hunts by stealth, silently approaching its prey before jumping high into the air and down onto its victim. A serval can jump over 2m (6ft 7in) high when pouncing. Servals can leap as high as 3 m (10 ft.) to capture fleeing birds.

A serval may also excavate animals out of their burrows and wade into water to catch prey, using its sharp claws to catch fish. It is a very efficient hunter, succeeding in at least half of its attempts to capture prey.

Serval Facts: Predators

The serval is vulnerable to a number of predators, including leopards, hyenas and wild dogs. When threatened, the serval’s first instinct is to hide. If it is spotted by a predator, the serval will attempt to flee, using leaps and quick changes in direction to confuse its pursuer. It will also attempt to evade capture by climbing up a tree.

Is The Serval Endangered?

The serval is rated ‘Least Concern‘ by the IUCN.

Overall, the species is widespread and abundant. It occurs in most of Africa’s major national parks and reserves, and appears to be expanding its range in southern Africa. However, in certain areas (such as the Mediterranean coast) isolated populations are Critically Endangered.

The serval’s greatest threats include:

  • Habitat loss: The loss and degradation of wetland habitats (which support large numbers of rodents) and grassland habitats to a lesser degree is the most significant threat to the species.
  • Trade: A large number of serval pelts continue to be traded in several countries, including Senegal and Gambia, although in general the commercial trade of serval skins is in decline. In some countries such as Nigeria, servals are also used for traditional medicine and ceremonial purposes.

Serval Facts: Related Articles at Active Wild

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