Serval

Leptailurus (Felis) serval

SUBFAMILY

Felinae

TAXONOMY

Felis serval (Schreber, 1776), South Africa. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Serval, chat-tigre, lynx tacheté; German: Serval Katze; Spanish: Serval.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Length 26-39 in (67-100 cm); tail 14-16 in (35-40 cm); weight 20-40 lb (9-18 kg). Slim, long legged, tall cat, adapted to hunting in long grass. Elongated neck, small head, tall ears with very acute hearing. Pale yellow coat marked with solid black spots along sides and bars on neck and shoulders. Black servals widely recorded.

DISTRIBUTION

Sub-Saharan Africa. Isolated relict populations may remain in North Africa.

HABITAT

Well-watered long grass savanna, reed beds and riparian vegetation. Found in alpine grasslands up to 12,795 ft (3,900 m) in Kenya.

BEHAVIOR

Largely crepuscular or nocturnal, but may hunt in daytime, especially in cool conditions. Home range 3.7 to 7.7 mi2 (9.5 to 20 km2) for females, 4.4 to 12.4 mi2 (11.5 to 32 km2) for males, ranges may overlap. Both sexes urine mark, and rub saliva on grass or ground. Males territorial.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Small mammals, especially rodents. Also birds, reptiles, frogs, fish and insects. Locates prey in tall grass or reeds by hearing. Stalks then pounces with characteristic high leap. May leap to bat birds and insects from the air.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Polygamous. Non-seasonal breeders, but births peak in wet season. Gestation 70-79 days, litter one to five (usually two or three). Kittens independent by 6-8 months but females may stay in mother's home range for over a year. Males are driven away.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Servals adapt well to agricultural development where predation on rodents benefits farmers. Occasionally kill domestic poultry, but not a significant problem. Serval pelts are traded, but more for ritual use or tourist trade than international commerce. ♦

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