Serval (Felis serval)


Family:                    Felidae.

Status:                     Threatened.

Size:                        Height to shoulder 1.5 to 2 ft., 2 to 3 ft. length, 18 to 40 lbs.

Diet:                        Carnivore.

Characteristics:        Solitary.

Area:                       Sub-Saharan Africa.

Offspring:                Litter of 1 to 5 kittens.

Predators:               Hyena, leopard and wild dog.



·       The name serval is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “wolf-deer.”

·       Ancient Egyptians kept servals as pets and to keep rodent populations down. 

·       Servals are one of the few spotted cats not on the endangered species list.

·       Servals can meow, growl and purr.

·       Thirteen adult servals are killed to make one fur coat.



Servals are extremely adaptable. They can hunt either day or night, although they tend to be nocturnal, hunting only in the early morning, late evening or at night, mainly to escape the African heat. They dwell mostly on the ground, but are adept tree climbers as well. They have extremely long legs, a long body, a small head and extra large ears. The serval is reported to be able to hear a rodent moving as far as 20 feet away. They can also hear their prey underground and their long legs enable servals to reach into a burrow to get at the rodent inside. Rodents make up the major portion of the serval’s diet, making the serval a less annoying predator to farmers than other wild animals, despite the fact that servals occasionally prey on farm animals. Usually, however, they stick to small animals, including birds, reptiles and fish, when there are no rodents present. Servals can leap as high as 10 feet off the ground to catch a bird, and have a unique style of pouncing straight up in the air, and then directly down on its prey. Servals have a very high success rate when hunting. Most cats get prey in one of ten attempts—servals have a success rate of 50%. Usually a solitary animal, servals sometimes join up to hunt down larger prey such as a small antelope. Capable swimmers, servals are fond of water and live near water sources such as marshes or rivers surrounded by forest and grasslands. Serval fur is sometimes sold as cheetah or young leopard fur, both of which are endangered and protected animals.



Servals live in sub-Saharan Africa, from grasslands to forests and sometimes even in mountainous regions, as long as the area borders on water. They are not found in rainforests or desert areas. A male serval’s range overlaps that of two to three females. The serval is listed as threatened, but not endangered and is only partially protected, with hunting prohibited in Algeria, Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa (Cape province only); and regulated hunting allowed in Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo, Zaïre, Zambia. There is no legal protection for servals in Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Niger, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tunisia, Uganda or Zimbabwe.



Servals begin breeding at about 2 years of age. The female prepares a den either in dense brush or in an abandoned burrow. The pregnancy lasts approximately 2.5 months and litters number from one to five kittens, each weighing 8.5 to 9 ounces and born with eyes closed. At nine to twelve days, their eyes fully open and at three to four weeks, they begin to eat solid food, although they continue to nurse for seven months. The kittens stay with their mother up to a year, and some may stay longer within her home range. Servals can live up to 19 years in captivity.