Servals are native to Africa.  Their range is in Algeria and south of the Sahara Desert.  Servals are known for their long legs, large ears, spotted coats, and short tails.  On the back of their large black ears they have distinctive white spots.

Lifespan

Servals in the wild generally live 10-12 years and in captivity can live up to 20 years or more.

Shape & Size

Servals are between 23 ¼ in and 39 inches long.  They are between 9 ½ in-18in tall and generally weigh between 20-40lbs.  Males are typically larger than females.  They have long legs and long necks to see over the grasses in the areas in which they live.

Color Pattern

Servals have yellowish fur with dark spots.  They resemble a small cheetah.  They typically have a black tipped tail.  As with all spotted wild cats, Servals have distinctive white spots on the backs of their ears which is a way in which they communicate with their young.  When cats are angry or scared they will often pin their ears to their heads.  If kittens are following their mother and can no longer see the white spots on the backs of their ears then they know to hide because there is probably danger.

Behavior

Servals are primarily solitary, nocturnal animals, the exception being a mother with her kittens.  Servals are quite feisty when confronted and will often swat with its quick paws, hiss, growl and even bark.

Habitat

Servals live in the savanna among the tall grasses, near some source of water like a stream, river, or lake.  There have been a few melanistic servals that have been seen in more mountainous areas and at higher elevations.

Principal Threats

Servals are threatened by leopards, dogs, and people.  Poachers tend to hunt Servals and sell their pelt off as cheetah pelt.  People are also continuing to encroach on the servals habitat.

Leptailurus serval

Range Map

Range

Servals are native to Africa and found primarily south of the Sahara.  There is a small population left in Tunsia that is due to reintroduction.

Food

Servals primarily eat rodents and small mammals.  They are a keystone species and help keep the rodent population at bay.  A single serval can eat between 3,000-4,000 rodents in a year  Servals are sometimes killed by farmers who suspect servals are killing their livestock.  Servals however rarely kill livestock and do not often kill animals larger than themselves.

Reproductive Habits

A serval’s gestation period is typically around 72 days.  Servals can have between 1-5 kittens in a litter with the average being 2.  Serval kittens begin to eat solid food around 3 weeks of age and are independent by the time they reach 6-8 months of age.

Behavior

Servals are primarily solitary, with the exception of a mother and her kittens.  Servals are nocturnal cats and have been known to travel up to three or four miles in a night in search of food or to mark their territory.  As with most small cats, when presented with a threat the serval will often retreat.  However if servals are confronting one another, or a serval is directly threatened by another predatory, it will hiss, arch its back to appear bigger and take quick swipes with its front legs. 

Conservation

Servals are not currently threatened with extinction but CITES Appendix 2 indicates that “that may become unless trade is closely controlled.” 

Fun Facts

  • Servals have the fastest paw strike of any cat.  It is 1/60 of a second, which is faster than a king cobra can strike
  • Servals use their large ears and exceptional hearing to locate rodents underground
  • Success rate when hunting is about 50%
  • Servals have a high vertical leap, in which they use to catch birds, they use their paws in a clapping motion to catch the birds as they start to fly