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African Serval

Scientific name: Felinae serval

The African Serval Cat is a medium sized species of cat that is found throughout a large part of Africa, particularly in the grassy savannas. Servals have a wide range of sizes. They can vary from 18 to 24 inches tall and 18 to 45 pounds.

The serval resembles a miniature cheetah except that the serval cat has a relatively short tail so that it does not interfere when jumping from a crouched or sitting position while the cheetah’s tail is longer for balance and steering while running.

Interesting Serval Cat Facts

  • Serval cats are diurnal or nocturnal depending on the habits of the prey where they live.

  • The name serval is derived from a Portuguese word which means wolf-deer.

  • The serval’s hind legs are longer than the front ones.
    A serval can leap in the air to catch birds.

  • Their success rate of pounces is 50%. Most other cats’ success rate is only 10%.

How to Identify African Serval Cats

The servals physical characteristics are adapted for their particular habitat and methods of hunting. Servals have the largest ears and longest legs in relation to the size of their body of any cat.

The long legs give the cat a higher position for its ears. Its large ears are highly sensitive to allow them to zero in on prey that they cannot even see. It is reported that a serval can pounce and land on a mouse from 20 feet away.

The back of the ears have conspicuous spots called oceli. There is some debate as to the purpose of the spots. Some say that they are used to signal other servals. More likely they are “false eyes” or “night eyes” which serve to distract other predators from attacking from the rear since it makes the serval appear to be looking backwards. They are smarter than a domestic cat and, consequently, they get into more mischief in a home.

Their fur is yellow, gold to reddish with black spots that often merge to form stripes on the neck and back. Their ears have horizontal stripes. The stomach is usually lighter color than the rest of the body. They have a long neck and a small head.

In length, serval cats are about 2 to 3 ¼ feet. Their tails are ¾ to 1 ½ feet long. At the shoulder they stand 1 1/3 to 2 feet tall. Weight ranges from 17.5 to 40 pounds.

Where to find the African Serval Cat

Servals live in well-watered grasslands of Africa. Their habitat overlaps with the caracal who usually preys on larger animals. In Uganda, African Serval Cats are widespread in woodland and forest habitats.

What the African Serval Cats Eat

The serval cat mainly eats hares, ground squirrels, hyraxes, and mole rats, but will also prey on frogs, snakes, lizards, insects, fish, and birds. Serval Cats also consume a surprising amount of vegetable material and fruit.

Behavior & Breeding

1 to 3 kittens are born per litter, although sometimes as many as 5 are born. They weigh about 9 ounces each. Kittens are born with their eyes closed, but they open in 9 to 12 days. They reach independence at about 6-8 months, but will stay in their mother’s range until they reach sexual maturity at 18 to 24 months.

Servals primarily hunt alone. In the absence of suitable small prey they have been known to team up on larger animals. While servals are well adapted for hunting by jumping and snaring or pouncing, they seem very skilled at probing holes with their long forepaws. Servals in captivity will frequently stick their paw in ones pocket to fish around for interesting items

Threats & Conservation

The main threats to servals are hyenas, leopards, dogs and man. Sometimes they are hunted for their pelts which are passed off as immature leopard pelts.

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