Class: Mammalia (Mammals)
Body length: 2.3 to 3.3 feet (70 to 100 centimeters)
Shoulder height: 1.5 to 2 feet (45 to 60 centimeters)
Weight: 19 to 40 pounds (9 to 18 kilograms)
Life span: up to 19 years
Gestation: 70 to 79 days
Number of young at birth: 1 to 5
Weight at birth: 8 to 9 ounces (227 to 255 grams)
Age of maturity: 18 to 24 months
Conservation Status: North African serval Leptailurus serval constantinus is endangered.
The serval has the longest legs and largest ears for its body size of any cat.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped the serval for its power and grace.
Servals are perhaps the best hunters in the cat world. While other wild cats are successful in just one of every five or six attempts to kill prey, servals make a kill in about half of all tries.
The name serval comes from a Portuguese word meaning "wolf deer."
Other nicknames for the serval are "bush cat" and "giraffe cat."
- Clouded Leopard
- Fishing Cat
- Lynx & Bobcat
- Mountain Lion
- Small Cat
- Snow Leopard
Listen to a serval's purr!
The African serval is a small, slender cat with long legs, a lean body, and a small head. Its extra-long neck gives it the nickname "giraffe cat." The cat's coat is brown with black lines and spots while its belly is a soft white. Native to the grasslands of Africa, the serval's colors allow it to seemingly disappear in the thick grass. Unlike many other cat species, this small feline loves to climb, leap, and play in water. It vocalizes using shrill cries and mews, but the serval can growl and purr, too. Servals are crepuscular to avoid the heat of the day, although they also hunt at night when needed. The cats often share their savanna habitat with caracals and may compete with them for prey.
Wait and see…
…is the serval's main hunting strategy. It waits in the tall grass, using its huge ears to listen for approaching prey before pouncing on its meal. Instead of running down a target like a cheetah would, the serval takes a giant leap up into the air and then forces its body weight down upon the victim, trapping it beneath the front paws until the cat can deliver a deadly bite to the neck. This method is efficient and quick.
The serval has a varied diet, eating birds, reptiles, frogs, and large insects. Standing on its hind legs, a serval can jump more than 9 feet (2.7 meters) straight up to grab birds right out of the air! But small rodents are its most frequent prey item, and servals don't hesitate to reach a long leg down into a rodent's burrow to snatch a meal out of the tunnel! With its many hunting styles, varied diet, and fantastic hearing, the serval is well equipped to be the most successful predator of all the cats.
Servals do not have a specific breeding season, and even though a male's home range may overlap those of several females, they live separately most of the year. Males may sometimes rest together during the day in small groups, but otherwise they are solitary.
The female serval raises her kittens alone, usually three kittens to a litter. They live in a den made of tall, thick grass, and the mother leaves her kittens most of the day while she hunts for food, returning to stay with them at night. She accepts the presence of her female kittens longer than that of male kittens: once the boys can hunt for themselves they are no longer welcome at home. Daughters usually stay with their mother until they are about two years old. In the wild, female servals in overlapping ranges are often related to one another.
Some people think it would be fun to own a wild or exotic cat. This has led to a serval cross-breed cat called the "savanna cat": a captive-raised serval bred with a domestic cat. Wild animals, even those born in zoos, keep their wild instincts for hundreds, even thousands, of years. It took thousands of years to domesticate "tame" dogs, cats, sheep, and cattle by selective breeding for certain traits. Special permits are required for trained experts or zoos to own or house wild servals, and it is against the law in some states to own savanna cats.
Servals in the wild are not considered endangered except for one subspecies, the North African serval Leptailurus serval constantinus. However, like all wild animals, serval populations can be harmed by habitat loss, global climate change, and hunting for their beautiful fur. It takes the skins of many servals to produce one coat. Fortunately, in many parts of the world the wearing of animal-skin coats for fashion is no longer popular.
Servals are important to their human neighbors because they catch rodents, which carry diseases and contaminate food supplies. With fewer than 300 servals in zoos around the world and less than 150 in United States zoos, getting to know this beautiful feline is a special treat for any animal lover!