Scientific Name: Leptailurus serval
Servals are elusive predators that belong to the small cat family.
These cats are solitary carnivores that occupy the sub-Saharan landscape. They are extremely successful hunters that utilize strong senses of sight and sound. Servals sleep during the day, hidden among the grasses, and hunt small prey at night.
STATUS: Servals are listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: Servals live primarily in sub-Saharan Africa in areas close to water. They are often found in well-watered grasslands, scrubs, marshes, and woodlands.
DIET: Servals prey on small mammals and birds. They will also hunt in shallow water for wading birds, fish and frogs.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Servals’ coats are golden-tan with black markings. These markings consist of spots, stripes and bands that vary on each individual. Large, disk-like ears are the identifying features of servals. The backs of the ears are black with a prominent white bar. Servals have yellowish eyes with small pupils. They have long necks and very small heads, which allow servals to peer over tall grasses. Their bodies and legs are also long and slender. With these features, servals can achieve vertical jumps up to 6 feet. Servals average three feet long with a 12 inch tail. Adults stand about two feet tall at the shoulder and can weigh 18-40 pounds.
The Sounds of the Hunt
Servals rest in tall grasses during the day and accomplish most of their hunting at night. Except during reproduction, servals lead solitary lives and must rely on their own abilities to survive. Although servals have excellent vision, an acute sense of hearing plays a vital role in their hunting abilities. Their long, lean bodies slink through the grass, while they keep their head held high and their ears erect and alert. Once servals detect their prey, they gracefully leap to catch it. Protractile claws allow servals to swiftly snatch their prey. The precision of this technique is extremely successful, with 50% of attempts resulting in a kill.
A benefit from their keen hearing is that servals can detect prey underground. They utilize a specific digging strategy on burrowing animals like the African mole rat. Upon detecting underground movement, servals interfere with the animal’s tunnel system. When the animal appears to fix the tunnel, servals will fling the animal out of the tunnel and catch it. Sometimes, servals will play with their kill before they eat it.