Felis leptailurus serval
WILD STATUS: Least Concern
LIFE SPAN: 15-20 years
DISTRIBUTION: African countries Southeast of the Sahara Desert. There is a remnant population in NW Africa.
SIZE: Weight from 9-18kg (20-40lb), height at shoulder 60cm (23.5in).
HABITAT: Servals live in well-watered grassland and are confined to areas near water. They like open bush, sub-alpine and bamboo forest. They do not go into densely forested areas.
REPRODUCTION: 1-5 kittens are born after 66-77 day gestation period.
DIET: Servals are highly specialized rodent catchers. Their large ears enable them to hear mice, rates, etc. moving about in the tall grass. They have also been known to eat frogs, lizards, hares, ground squirrels, and birds.
- The name “Serval” is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “wolf-deer”. That is easy to understand when you see these long legs, elongated neck and large ears on such a delicate animal. The hind legs are longer than the front ones.
- Proportionally, servals have the longest and largest ears in the cat family.
- During the heat of the daytime, they will rest in abandoned Aardvark burrows or under trees in the shade.
- Both sexes spray to mark their territory.
- Servals use their long toes to hook rodents from burrows. They wait near the entrance where small rodents such as mole rats live and when they hear them near the entrance, they hook the animal and fling it up into the air.
- Main predators of servals are leopards, dogs and humans. They are killed for their pelts, mostly for ceremonial purposes in their native countries, rather than for export.
- For survival of the Serval, wetland conservation is the top issue. Secondary reason for their decline is degradation of grasslands through annual burning followed by overgrazing by cattle, goats, etc. Indiscriminate poisoning of rodent populations also poisons the carnivores which consume the rodents.
- About 13 adult servals are killed to make a fur coat.
Conservation Corporation Africa (CC Africa) is delighted to announce the successful release of eight serval onto Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Aftrica’s Kwa Zulu-Natal. These felines were brought in from the Moholoholo Rehabilitation Centre (near Hoedspruit in the Limpopo Province) in November 2006 in an effort to increase the density of this once-hunted species back onto the Reserve. This also provides CC Africa’s guests with a better chance of viewing these elusive cats whilst on game drive.
Two male and six female serval were protected within enclosed bomas to allow them sufficient time to adapt to their new surroundings. Phinda’s guides were mystified when some of the servals managed to escape the boma within the first few days; however they have now settled and made Phinda their new home. Guests have been reporting regular sightings of these extraordinary animals, with one particular sighting that lasted an hour. The remaining serval in the boma will be collared to enable them to be monitored for research purposes. Once this is successful, Phinda’s guides will also ensure the ‘escapees’ are also collared.
Simon Nayler, Phinda’s Reserve Manager, states that “the serval is one of eight cat species found in Southern Africa and even though the larger species (lion, leopard and cheetah) are well studied, there is little known about the smaller species especially the serval. We hope that the introduction of these unique cats onto the Phinda land will delight guests and allow us to learn as much as possible about this fascinating species in the process.”
This collaring serves as an opportunity for Phinda’s team to keep a close eye on the species to gain key scientific information about the social structure, behavoural patterns and territories covered by these mammals. Little is known about the serval and there is hope that this will open a door to find out much more about this fascinating and complex cat.
Wetland preservation is the main key to Serval conservation, as these areas harbor high rodent densities and form the core area of the Servals home ranges. Of secondary importance is slowing the degradation of grasslands through annual burning, followed by overgrazing.
Some African tribes consider their flesh a delicacy. Servals occasionally kill domestic poultry, but the amount of the predation does not appear to be a problem. The Servals preference for rodents actually benefits farmers, and they are not as actively hunted as other stock killers. However, indiscriminate poisoning campaigns to decrease rodent numbers also poison the carnivores that prey on them.
The main predators to Servals are leopards, dogs and humans. Their fine markings make them a prime target for poachers, and in 1979 – 1980 a total of 3,478 pelts were recorded as being traded. How many more were not recorded or were traded under some other name? Serval skins are also labeled and sold as being a young leopard (Panthera pardus) or cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), which are much rarer and more expensive. Ther Serval pelt trade appears to be domestic for ceremonial and medicinal purposes rather than for international export.
The map here shows the territory of the Serval.
It wouldn’t be possible for Mountain View Conservation to continue its programs without your donations! Please continue to support this extremely important work.
To help us in our work, please donate to our Society.
Click here to Donate: Adopt a Northern Spotted Owl
Click the Canada Helps logo and donate securely online. Thank you!