Serval

(Leptailurus serval)

Range and habitat
The serval is an African feline found most commonly south of the Sahara. Small populations of servals are also found in the Atlas Mountains, Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia and Tanzania. They mainly live on vast savannahs and open grasslands, but are also seen along forest edges, in reed beds and close to water.

Appearance
Adult servals have a shoulder height of about 60 centimetres. The animals are graceful in appearance with a slender stature, long legs and large ears. Their golden fur is dotted with black spots and stripes. Furthermore, servals have white markings on their chest, belly and head. The back of their ears are black with a white stripe down the middle. The animals have long tails, small heads, and sharp teeth and claws.

Unfortunately, due to its elegant appearance the serval is a popular pet. Despite the fact that this exotic feline is not a suitable pet at all. Many of them end up in AAP’s rescue centre because they have bitten their owner.

Did you know?
  • Servals have the longest legs of all felines in relative terms. They also have large ears.
  • Length Body 59-92 cm, tail 20-38 cm
  • Weight 9-18 kg
  • Lifespan From 30 - 40 years in the wild; up to 45 years in captivity
  • Range South of the Sahara, Atlas mountains, Algeria, Morocco and Ethiopi
  • Habitat Mainly grasslands, savannahs and reed bed

Reproduction
Servals are solitary creatures and spend most of their lives alone. When it is time to mate, the animals seek each other out. Although servals do not have a specific mating season, mating mostly takes place in spring. A female serval’s fertile period can be as short as one day. If a female senses that this day is approaching, she will seek out the male. She will continue to chase him until the right moment to mate has arrived.

Following a gestation period of about 65-75 days, (on average) 1 to 3 kittens are born. At birth, they weigh about 250 grams, but within the first 11 days their weight doubles. The kittens stay with their mother until they are about 1 year old. Following this period, they find their own territory. When they are one and a half to two years old, they reach a fertile age.

Diet
Servals are true carnivores. Their diet consists mainly of small mammals, such as mice and rats. Birds, frogs and insects are also occasionally on the menu. As soon as it gets dark, the animals go hunting. They use their nose and ears to locate their prey, sneaking up on it quietly and catching it with a big leap. Some servals play with their prey before eating it. This behaviour is particularly common in kittens.

Behaviour and habits
Servals are solitary animals. Both males and females have their own territory of around 11.5 square kilometres. They mark their territory by spraying urine or rubbing the scent glands on the sides of their heads along bushes. They also use their faeces to mark out their territory. Although the animals are not social, servals that meet sometimes travel together for a while during mating season, before separating again. When the animals are not hunting, they spend most of their time resting.