The most distinguishing feature of a Serval is their large ears. They also have long legs (longest of all cats relative to body size). These features assist the Serval during the hunt. The coat is tawny in color with black spots and stripes. Their underside is light in color ranging from white to tan. Melanism is known to exist with Servals. The appearance is similar to that of a black leopard. White Servals exist only in captivity. White Servals are white with silver/gray spots.
Prey includes small rodents as well as birds, reptiles, fish and frogs. They have been observed taking larger animals such as antelopes, but over 90% of their prey weighs less than they do. Servals are very efficient hunters. They catch their prey as many as 50% of attempts compared to around one of ten for most other species. Their long legs and neck allow them to see over the tall grass while their large ears are used to detect rodents and other prey. Once prey is detected, they leap straight up to pounce on their prey. Their pounce is a distinctive vertical 'hop'. They can leap up to three meters off the ground.
Habitat / Distribution
Servals are found in mid and southern regions of Africa. The savanna is their main habitat. Bushy areas provide good hunting sites as well. Grasses and areas close to streams or a water source are also preferred habitats.
Reproduction / Social System
The gestations period for a Seval is between 66 and 77 days. The litter can be between two or three kittens. Litter size can sometimes be as few as one or as many as five. The young are raised in sheltered areas such as abandoned dens or surrounded by dense vegetation. The female will often move her young to new hiding places for protection. Serval kittens will reach sexual maturity between 18 and 24 months of age. The female kittens will stay with the mother until they reach sexual maturity, and the mother determines when they must leave her territory to start their own. The male kittens are forced out as soon as they are able to hunt on their own. This can be between six to eight months. Life expectancy is 12-20 years.
The Serval population has dwindled in numbers due to humans taking over their habitat and hunting them for their fur and in some areas their meat. They are listed in CITES Appendix 2, indicating that they are not threatened with extinction but they may become so unless trade is controlled.
Servals weigh between 30-40lbs. The males are usually larger than the females. Shoulder height is about 21-22in.