Serval

(Leptailurus serval)

Habitat and Distribution: Found in reed beds, marshes, grasslands, bamboo thickets, and open forests throughout sub-Saharan Africa; a few populations may live in North Africa.

Size: About 24 inches tall at the shoulder; about 40 inches long; 17-40 pounds. Males are larger than females.

Wild Diet: Primarily rodents and birds; occasionally reptiles, frogs, fish, insects, carrion, and young antelope

Predators: Hyenas, African wild dogs, and leopards

Lifespan: 10-15 years

Reproduction: Servals are ready to mate at 18-24 months and usually breed in spring. Females deliver up to 5 kittens (usually 2-3) in a den after a gestation of 10-11 weeks. Dense shrubs, holes under rocks, or abandoned burrows may be used as dens. The mother raises her kittens alone, frequently moving them to new hiding places and leaving them only to hunt. The kittens are weaned by 5 months of age but may stay with their mother for up to a year until they are able to hunt for themselves.

Behavior: Servals are usually solitary and establish territories of up to 5 square miles. They are crepuscular, meaning that they are most active at dawn and dusk. During the heat of midday, they rest in abandoned burrows or under shady bushes. They use their excellent hearing to locate prey and then pounce, striking on impact. They hook rodents and other small prey with their strong, curved claws. African servals can move swiftly over short distances, with a bounding run, and can leap to catch birds 10 feet from the ground. They climb well and take refuge in trees when threatened by larger predators.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

African servals are protected in some countries and are abundant in most of the national parks and reserves within their range. However, they are also hunted for pelts (which are often labeled as “cheetah” or “leopard”) and are threatened by wetland fragmentation. Wetland conservation is the key to serval conservation.

Did you know?

  • In proportion to its body, the serval has the longest legs in the cat family, enabling it to peer over tall vegetation to find prey.
  • A serval can leap twice its own body length. A pounce may span 3-12 feet and may be over 3 feet high.
  • They are among the most successful feline hunters, with 50 percent of hunts resulting in a kill.