Overview

Brief Summary

Biology

The serval is most active from dusk to dawn, but will sometimes hunt during the day, particularly when the weather is cool or overcast (4) (7). Moving slowly through long grass, it uses its huge ears and height advantage to detect prey in the surrounding vegetation. On locating prey, it stealthily approaches and then pounces up to three metres into the air to strike down with its forepaws (4). This technique is typically employed to catch rodents and other small animals off the ground but remarkably the serval is also able to catch birds and insects in flight (2) (4) (5). As a less energetic alternative to pouncing, the serval will also use its long legs to investigate holes and crevices, and will sometimes venture into water to catch live fish (4). The serval is typically a solitary species with pairs only coming together for a few days when the female is in heat (4) (5). The gestation period lasts around 74 days, after which the female normally gives birth to a litter of one to four kittens (2) (4). When with young, the female is forced to spend considerably more time than usual hunting and consequently less time resting. After around a year, the female chases the young from the natal area but tolerate female offspring for a few months longer than males (2).
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Description

Built for height rather than speed, the serval is a tall, slender cat with the longest legs relative to body size of any cat species (4). It has a long neck and a narrow face dominated by enormous, oval ears which it uses to scan vegetation for sounds of prey (2) (4) (5). Black spots, varying in size and shape, pattern its tawny fur and in some instances merge to form stripes on the back and neck (4) (6). Furthermore, in parts of the serval's range, all-black forms are fairly common (2) (4) (5).
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Distribution

Leptailurus serval (formerly classified as Felis serval) is a member of the family Felidae. African servals, originally found throughout Africa, now predominantly reside in southern Africa, especially in Zimbabwe and the province of Natal. Small populations are located in the Atlas Mountains, where distributions were greater prior to 1980. African servals have also been found in Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia, and south of the Sahara. Due to relocation efforts, members of this species can now be found in northern Tanzania.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

  • Alderton, D. 1993. Wild Cats of the World. New York: Facts on File.
  • Geertsema, A. 1991. The Servals of Gorigor. Natural History, 100/2: 52-32.
  • Livingston, S. 2009. The nutrition and natural history of the serval (Felis serval) and caracal (Caracal caracal). The Veterinary Clinics of North America., 12/2: 327-334.
  • Perrin, M. 2001. Space use by a reintroduced serval in Mount Currie Nature Reserve. South African Journal of Wildlife Research, 32/1: 79-86.
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Range Description

The serval occurs widely through sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of tropical rainforest and the Saharan desert (Nowell and Jackson 1996). North of the Sahara, there are recent records from Morocco (Cuzin 2003) and from northern Algeria (K. De Smet pers. comm.). They went extinct in Tunisia, but a population has been reintroduced into Feijda N.P. (K. De Smet, in Hunter and Bowland in press), with animals of East African stock (F. Cuzin pers. comm.).
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Range

The serval is found in Africa and is widely distributed in most countries south of the Sahara (4). In North Africa there are only a few recent records of isolated populations in Morocco and northern Algeria (1) (7).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Adult African servals are slender, agile, and approximately 60 cm in length from shoulder to tail. Males weigh about 9 to 18 kg and females 9 to 13 kg. Their legs and ears are long and considered the largest in the cat family relative to their size. African servals have a coat with copper hue. Their ventral side and some of their facial features are white. They have black spots and stripes, which vary among each individual in size and placement. Individuals that originated from grasslands tend to have larger spots than those found in forests. Markings run from the top of the head between the ears and continue down the back breaking into four distinct lines. Upon reaching the shoulders, the lines break and scatter into spots along the same path of the stripes. Eventually reaching the rear of the animal, the spots elongate perpendicularly and merge to form the rings of the tail. The tip of the tail is black. The back of the ears are black with a white line between them. Occasionally, melanistic servals have been observed.

Range mass: 9 to 18 kg.

Average mass: 14 kg.

Average length: 60 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male larger

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Average basal metabolic rate: 1.44 W.

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Ecology

Habitat

African servals are most commonly found in reed beds and grasslands, which primarily consist of Themeda triandra. They also spend time in forest brush, bamboo thickets, marshes, and streams within their home range. The average annual temperature within the geographic range of African servals is 13.7 °C and the average rainfall 826 mm/year. Members of this species in the Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania are found at elevations between 1400 and 2200 m where winters are mild and there is occasional snowfall.

Range elevation: 1400 to 2200 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland

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Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
In sub-Saharan Africa, servals are found in well-watered savanna long-grass environments and are particularly associated with reedbeds and other riparian vegetation types. They also range up into alpine grasslands, up to 3,800 m on Mount Kilimanjaro (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Hunter and Bowland in press). Servals can penetrate dense forest along waterways and through grassy patches, but are absent from the rainforests of Central Africa, and from desert environments. In North Africa, they are found from semi-desert to cork oak forest on the Mediterranean coast (De Smet 1989; Cuzin 2003). Servals are able to tolerate agricultural areas provided cover is available (Hunter and Bowland in press), and may also benefit from forest clearance and the resulting encorachment of savanna at the edges of the equatorial forest belt (Ray et al. 2005). Serval specialize on small mammals, in particular rodents, with birds of secondary importance (Hunter and Bowland in press).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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The serval is found in most types of grasslands, but is most common in moist habitats such as reed beds and marshes (4) (5) (6). Although absent from desert, semi desert and dense forest, servals sometimes occurs on forest edges and wooded areas interspersed with grassy glades (4).
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Trophic Strategy

African servals are crepuscular, hunting several times a night and early morning. If human habitation is close, servals may become nocturnal when hunting. Their diet consists of 93.5% small mammals (rats, mice, and shrews) and 5% birds with the remainder including occasional insects, frogs, lizards, and very rarely carrion. They have a hunting success rate of 48%, higher than other members of the family Felidae. This success rate was observed in successfully reintroduced and wild servals. Hunts early in the morning have a lower rate of success yet have higher yield of prey (about 10) than in the evening (about 6).

To begin hunting, Afircan servals first scan the surrounding area. Ideal hunting spots are located along roads or trails, where there is good audibility on all sides and less noise is made when walking. Along their survey, African servals periodically stop and remain motionless for as long as 15 min. If a meal is detected, their ears prick up and rotate to pinpoint their prey. Once the location of prey has been established, servals slink forward. They pounce a distance of 1 to 4 m, with their front feet landing atop their prey. If prey is heard beneath the soil, African servals rummage, dig, and sniff to either reach or flush the critter out. African servals have more difficulty catching birds and insects. They have been recorded jumping as high as 1.5 m attempting to catch lesser flamingos, spoonbills, ducks, and other waterfowl. These animals are plucked before consumption.

Serval kittens and sometimes adult African servals “play with” their food if prey are not immediately killed. Rats, mice, and birds are tossed in the air while snakes are allowed to scurry some distance away before caught again and bitten. Prey are generally eaten where they caught or along the roadside when undisturbed. Kittens suckle from their mother until weaned at about five months, when they attempt to venture out with her to hunt.

Animal Foods: birds; mammals; amphibians; reptiles; carrion ; insects

Primary Diet: carnivore (Eats terrestrial vertebrates)

  • Bowland, J., M. Perrin. 1993. Diet of serval Felis serval in a highland region of Natal. South African Journal of Zoology, 28/3: 132-135.
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Associations

As a predator, African servals may limit growth of their prey (small mammals). Fecal matter deposition and meal remains may also act as fertilizer. African servals are host to a parasitic protozoan Toxoplasma gondii, and antibodies to the parasite have been found in the blood of servals.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Silva, J., S. Ogassawara, M. Marvulo, J. Ferreira-Neto, J. Dubey. 2001. Toxoplasma gondii Antibodies in Exotic Wild Felids from Brazilian Zoos. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine, 32/3: 349-351.
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African servals have no major predators other than humans. Leopards and hyenas are the most probable competitors for food and territory. When African servals discover they are close to an individual of a rival species, they run away in confusing darting leaps.

Known Predators:

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Known prey organisms

Leptailurus serval preys on:
Litocranius walleri
Redunca arundinum

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Being a solitary animal, African servals only interact with other members of their species when mating, caring for young, or fighting for territory. Of all the sightings in Geertsema's (1984) 4-year study, 7.8% of observations were of social interactions, most of which was parental care. Chemical communication of adults is limited to scent markings emitted from urine and glands in the cheeks. The highest recorded number of markings was by a male when he was following a female, in which he marked 566 times in a 4 hour period.

Communication Channels: visual ; tactile ; chemical

Other Communication Modes: pheromones ; scent marks

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

African servals are estimated to live 10 years in the wild. The longest lived African serval in the wild was estimated to be 23 years of age. Servals in captivity live on average 22.4 years. One female at the Basel Zoo in Switzerland had her last litter at age 14 and lived 19.5 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
23 years.

Average lifespan

Status: captivity:
22.4 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
10 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
23.0 years.

Average lifespan

Sex: female

Status: captivity:
19.8 years.

  • Grzimek, B. 1990. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: McGraw-Hill.
  • Walker, E., F. Warnick, K. Lange, H. Uible, S. Hamlet, M. Davis, P. Wright. 1964. Mammals of the World. Baltimore, Maryland: The John Hopkins Press.
  • Weigl, R. 2005. Longevity of Mammals in Captivity; from the Living Collections of the World. Stuttgart: Kleine Senckenberg-Reihe 48.
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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 22.4 years (captivity) Observations: Although it has been estimated that these animals live up to 23 years in the wild (Bernhard Grzimek 1990), record longevity in captivity is 22.4 years (Richard Weigl 2005).
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Reproduction

African servals are solitary animals except when breeding. They are polygynous, and the territories of males overlap with those of as many females as possible for optimal reproduction. Although there is no set breeding interval, mating occurs more often in the spring. A female nearly ready to breed will hunt and court the male over several days, just before coming into oestrus. Oestrus can last as little as 1 day.

Mating System: polygynous

After a gestation period of 10 to 11 weeks, female African servals give birth to 2 to 3 kittens. These young, about 250 g at birth, double in size in their first 11 days. They are weaned in 5 months, and their permanent canines are developed by 6 months of age. Young African servals stay for up to a year with their mother until kicked out to find their own territory. Males take 1 to 2 years to establish a new territory. Sexual maturity occurs about the time kittens are independent, between 18 and 24 months.

Breeding interval: African servals have no set breeding season, though increased mating occurs in spring.

Range number of offspring: 2 to 3.

Range gestation period: 65 to 75 days.

Range weaning age: 3 to 5 months.

Range time to independence: 1 to 1.5 years.

Key Reproductive Features: year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization ; viviparous

Average birth mass: 263 g.

Average number of offspring: 2.5.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)

Sex: female:
821 days.

After mating, female African servals likely look for suitable dens in which to raise their young. Dens vary from dense shrubs to holes under rocks or abandoned burrows. The behavior of a mother changes to accommodate her young as she must forage for them as well as herself. Constantly hunting, she must deter her kittens from following her. In the late afternoons she rests before hunting for the next meal. Males provide no parental care for the kittens.

Parental Investment: female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)

  • Breitenmoser-Würsten, C., U. Breitenmoser. 1996. "IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group" (On-line). leptailurus serval. Accessed December 01, 2010 at http://www.catsg.org/catsgportal/cat-website/20_cat-website/home/index_en.htm.
  • Geertsema, A. 1991. The Servals of Gorigor. Natural History, 100/2: 52-32.
  • Livingston, S. 2009. The nutrition and natural history of the serval (Felis serval) and caracal (Caracal caracal). The Veterinary Clinics of North America., 12/2: 327-334.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Felis serval

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Leptailurus serval

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Caracal serval

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

Increasing human populations and agricutural developement have reduced habitat for both African servals and their prey. This may lead to hunting of livestock, as it is an easy and highly nutritious meal. Though the impact of servals on agriculture is minimal, they are regularly shot on site by farmers. Reintroduction of captive-raised servals has been attempted, but there has been difficulty introducing them too close to human habitations. Studies have used radio transmitters to show that most effective releases are at least 10 km from humans at a site with sufficient prey.  Although African servals are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN, the subspecies Leptailurus serval constantina is listed as endangered by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern

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IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2008

Assessor/s
Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Henschel, P. & Sogbohossou, E.

Reviewer/s
Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)

Contributor/s

Justification
Listed as Least Concern as the serval is relatively abundant and widespread (and even expanding and recolonizing some areas). However, degradation of wetlands is of concern, as is the level of skin trade in west Africa (Ray et al. 2005, Hunter and Bowland in press). Servals are rare south of the Sahara in the Sahel region (Clement et al. 2007). A 2007 Mediterranean Mammal Assessment workshop classified servals north of the Sahara as regionally Critically Endangered (see details below).

The isolated population along the Mediterranean coast, where it is known to occur only in Morocco (Cuzin 2003), possibly in Algeria (K. de Smet pers. comm.), and has been reintroduced (from East African stock) in Tunisia, is classified regionally as Critically Endangered (C2a(1)). There are fewer than 250 mature individuals, each subpopulation is smaller than 50 and completely isolated (from each other and from sub-Saharan African populations).

History
  • 2002
    Least Concern
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Status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).
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Population

Population
Outside northern Africa, where it is considered to meet the Red List criteria for Endangered (Cuzin 2003) and the Sahel, where it is rare (Clement et al. 2007), the serval is commonly recorded from most major national parks and reserves. Their status outside reserves is uncertain, but they are inconspicuous and may be common in suitable habitat as they are tolerant of farming practices provided there is cover and food available (Hunter and Bowland in press). The minimum density of servals in optimal habitat in Ngorongoro Crater was 0.42 animals/km² (Geertsema 1985).

Population Trend
Stable
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Threats

Major Threats
The major threat to serval is wetland habitat loss and degradation. Wetlands harbour comparatively high rodent densities compared with other habitat types, and form the core areas of serval home ranges. Of secondary importance is degradation of grasslands through annual burning followed by over-grazing by domestic hoofstock, leading to reduced abundance of small mammals (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Ray et al. 2005).

International legal commercial trade is generally declining (Nowell and Jackson 1996), although skins are still traded in large quantities in some countries, such as Senegal, Gambia and Benin (O. Burnham and I. Di Silvestre, in Hunter and Bowland in press), and exported to North Africa (K. de Smet and F. Cuzin pers. comm. 2007). Serval pelts seen in trade in Morocco could come from elsewhere, or could indicate the species continued existence in that country (Arce and Prunier 2006). Trade in West Africa appears to be primarily for ceremonial or medicinal purposes. For example, they are highly valued for traditional medicine in Nigeria, where, among markets surveyed in five south-west Nigerian towns in 1994, servals were the second most commonly offered mammalian species (Sodeinde and Soewu 1999 in Hunter and Bowland in press).

Although serval very rarely prey upon livestock (and indeed may even be beneficial to crop farmers due to their predilection for rodents), in rural areas throughout Africa, they are sometimes persecuted for taking poultry and indiscriminate predator control methods practiced by pastoralists frequently kill them (Hunter and Bowland pers. comm.).
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Although Africa's serval population remains relatively widespread and abundant, habitat degradation and hunting are responsible for a decline in overall numbers. Of primary concern is the loss of wetland habitat which supports the high densities of rodents on which servals depend. Compounding wetland degradation is overgrazing and burning of grasslands, which similarly reduce the abundance of small mammals. Despite being listed on Appendix II of CITES, which prohibits international trade without a permit, hunting of the serval for its pelt still continues on a significant scale, particularly in West Africa. Furthermore, in rural parts of Africa, the serval is often persecuted by farmers who consider it a threat to livestock (1) (7). Given, that these impacts are yet to seriously undermine the stability of the overall serval population, the species is currently classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. However, in North Africa the serval population is thought to comprise less than 250 individuals, isolated in vulnerable subpopulations of fewer than 50. Consequently, the population north of the Sahara is recognised to be Critically Endangered (1).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Included on CITES Appendix II. Hunting is prohibited in Algeria, Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa (Cape province only), and Tunisia, and hunting regulations apply in Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo, Zaïre and Zambia (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Servals occur in a number of protected areas across their range, including: El Kala N.P. (Algeria), Feidja N.P. (Tunisia), Ifrane N.P. (Morocco), Comoé N.P. (Côte d’Ivoire), WAPO complex (Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, Togo), Zakouma N.P. (Chad), Simien and Bale Mountains National Parks (Ethiopia), Odzala N.P. (Congo Republic), Virunga N.P. (DR Congo), Queen Elizabeth N.P. (Uganda), Aberdare Mountains N.P. (Kenya), Serengeti and Selous National Parks (Tanzania), Moremi G.R. and Chobe N.P. (Botswana), and Kruger N.P. and Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park (South Africa) (Hunter and Bowland in press). Odzala N.P. in Congo Republic could be a key site for protecting serval as it is the only currently known protected population in the Gabon-Congolian savanna region, which are isolated from the Miombo woodlands south of the Congo River (P. Henschel pers. comm.).
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Conservation

Currently there are no known conservation measures in place for the serval but it continues to occur in numerous protected areas from Morocco to South Africa (1). In addition, hunting of servals is prohibited or regulated in roughly half the countries that overlap its range (1) (7).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

African servals have become accustomed to people and motor vehicles due to tourism, farming, and relocation. Servals prey on rare occasions on dogs and livestock (poultry).

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African servals are part of the exotic pet trade. One domestic cat breed, savannah, is a mix between tabbys and servals. The pelt of servals is valuable and used to make mantles worn by chiefs in native tribes. Servals may also encourage ecotourism, which is common in Tanzania where most servals reside.

Positive Impacts: pet trade ; body parts are source of valuable material; ecotourism ; research and education

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Wikipedia

Serval

For other uses, see Serval (disambiguation).

The serval /ˈsɜrvəl/ (Leptailurus serval) is a medium-sized African wild cat. DNA studies have shown that the serval is closely related to the African golden cat and the caracal.[3]

Description[edit]

Serval in Tanzania

The serval is a medium-sized cat, measuring 59 to 92 cm (23 to 36 in) in head-body length, with a relatively short, 20 to 45 cm (7.9 to 17.7 in) tail, and a shoulder height of about 54 to 66 cm (21 to 26 in).[4] Weight ranges from about 7 to 12 kg (15 to 26 lb) in females, and from 9 to 18 kg (20 to 40 lb) in males.[5]

It is a strong yet slender animal, with long legs and a fairly short tail. Due to its leg length, it is relatively one of the tallest cats. The head is small in relation to the body, and the tall, oval ears are set close together. The pattern of the fur is variable. Usually, the serval is boldly spotted black on tawny, with two or four stripes from the top of the head down the neck and back, transitioning into spots. The "servaline" form has much smaller, freckled spots, and was once thought to be a separate species. The backs of the ears are black with a distinctive white bar. In addition, melanistic servals are quite common in some parts of the range, giving a similar appearance to the "black panther" (melanistic leopard).[5]

White servals have never been documented in the wild and only five have been documented in captivity. One was born and died at the age of two weeks in Canada in the early 1990s. Three males were born at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida in 1997 (Kongo and Tonga) and 1999 (Pharaoh).[6][7][8] Another is owned by a family living in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada.[9]

White serval at Big Cat Rescue

Servals have the longest legs of any cat, relative to their body size. Most of this increase in length is due to the greatly elongated metatarsal bones in the feet. The toes are also elongated, and unusually mobile, helping the animal to capture partially concealed prey. Another distinctive feature of the serval is the presence of large ears and auditory bullae in the skull, indicating a particularly acute sense of hearing.[5]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

The serval is native to Africa, where it is widely distributed south of the Sahara. It was once also found in Tunisia, and Algeria,[5] but may have been extirpated from Algeria and remains in Tunisia only because of a reintroduction program.[2] The serval became extinct in the Cape provinces of South Africa over the last century mainly due to habitat loss, hunting and poaching. However private game reserves in the Eastern Cape have begun re-introducing the species in the hopes of contributing to the eventual re-establishment of these wild cats in the region.[citation needed] In 2013, the serval was spotted and photographed in the Middle Atlas mountain region of Morocco.[10]

Its main habitat is the savanna, although melanistic individuals are more usually found in mountainous areas at elevations up to 3,000 metres (9,800 ft). The serval needs watercourses within its territory, so it does not live in semi-deserts or dry steppes. Servals also avoid dense equatorial jungles, although they may be found along forest fringes. They are able to climb and swim, but seldom do so.[5]

Subspecies[edit]

Nineteen subspecies were recognized in Mammal Species of the World,[1] but some authorities treat several of these as synonyms (a few have even treated the serval as monotypic).[11]

Hunting and diet[edit]

A serval from the Sabi Sands area of South Africa: Note the large ears adapted for hearing small prey.

The serval is nocturnal, so hunts mostly at night, unless disturbed by human activity or the presence of larger nocturnal predators. Although it is specialized for hunting rodents, it is an opportunistic predator whose diet also includes birds, hares, hyraxes, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs.[12] Over 90% of the serval's prey weighs less than 200 g (7 oz).[13] The serval eats very quickly, sometimes too quickly, causing it to gag and regurgitate due to clogging in the throat.[citation needed] Small prey are devoured whole. With larger prey, small bones are consumed, but organs and intestines are avoided along with fur, feathers, beaks, feet or hooves. The serval uses an effective plucking technique in which it repeatedly tosses captured birds in the air while simultaneously thrashing its head from side-to-side, removing mouthfuls of feathers, which it discards.[citation needed]

As part of its adaptations for hunting in the savannas, the serval boasts long legs (the longest of all cats, relative to body size) for jumping, which also help it achieve a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph),[citation needed] and has large ears with acute hearing. Its long legs and neck allow the serval to see over tall grasses, while its ears are used to detect prey, even those burrowing underground. They have been known to dig into burrows in search of underground prey, and to leap 2 to 3 m (7 to 10 ft) into the air to grab birds in flight.[5] While hunting, the serval may pause for up to 15 minutes at a time to listen with eyes closed. Its pounce is a distinctive and precise vertical 'hop', which may be an adaptation for capturing flushed birds.[14] It is able to leap up to 3.6 m (12 ft) horizontally from a stationary position, landing precisely on target with sufficient force to stun or kill its prey upon impact.[5] The serval is an efficient killer, catching prey on an average of 50% of attempts, compared to an average of 38% for leopards and 30% for lions.[citation needed]

The serval is extremely intelligent, and demonstrates remarkable problem-solving ability,[citation needed] making it notorious for getting into mischief,[citation needed] as well as easily outwitting its prey, and eluding other predators. The serval often plays with its captured prey for several minutes before consuming it. In most situations, it ferociously defends its food against attempted theft by others. Males can be more aggressive than females.

Behavior[edit]

A serval viewed from behind: Note the white markings on the ears (ocelli) used to signal kittens when hunting.

Like most cats, the serval is a solitary, nocturnal animal. It is known to travel as much as 3 to 4 km (1.9 to 2.5 mi) each night in search of food. The female defends home ranges of 9.5 to 19.8 km2 (3.7 to 7.6 sq mi), depending on local prey availability, while the male defends larger territories of 11.6 to 31.5 km2 (4.5 to 12.2 sq mi), and marks its territory by spraying urine onto prominent objects such as bushes, or, less frequently, by scraping fresh urine into the ground with its claws. Threat displays between hostile servals are often highly exaggerated, with the animals flattening their ears and arching their backs, baring their teeth, and nodding their heads vigorously. In direct confrontation, they lash out with their long fore legs and make sharp barking sounds and loud growls.[5]

Like many cats, the serval is able to purr.[15] It also has a high-pitched chirp, and can hiss, cackle, growl, grunt, and meow.[5]

Reproduction and life history[edit]

Oestrus in the serval lasts for up to four days, and is typically timed so the kittens are born shortly before the peak breeding period of local rodent populations. A serval is able to give birth to multiple litters throughout the year, but commonly does so only if the earlier litters die shortly after birth. Gestation lasts from 66 to 77 days and commonly results in the birth of two kittens, although sometimes as few as one or as many as four have been recorded.[5]

The kittens are born in dense vegetation or sheltered locations such as abandoned aardvark burrows. If such an ideal location is not available, a place beneath a shrub may be sufficient. The kittens weigh around 250 g (8.8 oz) at birth, and are initially blind and helpless, with a coat of greyish woolly hair. They open their eyes at 9 to 13 days of age, and begin to take solid food after around a month. At around six months, they acquire their permanent canine teeth and begin to hunt for themselves; they leave their mother at about 12 months of age. They may reach sexual maturity from 12 to 25 months of age.[5]

Life expectancy is about 10 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in captivity.[16] The longest recorded life of an African serval in the wild is 23 years of age. In captivity, average lifespan is 22.4 years.[17]

Conservation[edit]

Servals have dwindled in numbers due to human population taking over their habitat and hunting them for their pelts. The serval is sometimes preyed upon by the leopard and other large cats. It is listed in CITES Appendix 2, indicating it is "not necessarily now threatened with extinction, but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled."[18] It is still common—locally even expanding—in much of sub-Saharan Africa,[2] but is extinct in the Cape Province in South Africa. Private game reserves in the Eastern Cape have begun reintroducing the species in the hopes of contributing to the eventual re-establishment of these wild cats in the region. North of the Sahara, it occurs in only Morocco and Algeria, but has now possibly disappeared from the latter country[2] and the subspecies from this region (L. s. constantina) is considered endangered under the US Endangered Species Act.[19] It formerly occurred naturally in Tunisia, but now only through a reintroduction program based on servals from East Africa.[2]

Heraldry and literature[edit]

The serval (Italian gattopardo) was the symbol of the Tomasi family, princes of Lampedusa, whose best-known member was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author of one of the most famous Italian novels of the 20th century, Il Gattopardo. Opération Serval, a 2013 French military operation in the Northern Mali conflict, was named after the African cat.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 540. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Breitenmoser, C., Henschel, P. & Sogbohossou, E. (2008). Leptailurus serval. In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved 22 March 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  3. ^ Johnson, W. E.; Eizirik, E; Pecon-Slattery, J; Murphy, WJ; Antunes, A; Teeling, E; O'Brien, SJ (2006). "The Late Miocene Radiation of Modern Felidae: A Genetic Assessment". Science 311 (5757): 73–77. doi:10.1126/science.1122277. PMID 16400146. 
  4. ^ Burnie D and Wilson DE (Eds.), Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife. DK Adult (2005), ISBN 0789477645
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Sunquist, Mel; Sunquist, Fiona (2002). Wild cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 142–151. ISBN 0-226-77999-8. 
  6. ^ Pharaoh. Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved on 2012-07-03.
  7. ^ Tonga. Big Cat Rescue. Retrieved on 2012-07-03.
  8. ^ Kongo White Serval - tributes. Sites.google.com. Retrieved on 2012-07-03.
  9. ^ "Regina family wins fight to keep exotic cat as house pet (video)". CTV News. Retrieved 2012-11-06. 
  10. ^ Première nationale: un serval photographié dans le moyen Atlas
  11. ^ Kingdon, J. (1997). The Kingdon Guide to African Mammals. Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-408355-2
  12. ^ "Serval". African Wildlife Foundation. Retrieved 2007-03-13. 
  13. ^ "Serval Fact Sheet". San Diego Zoo. Retrieved 2013-07-25. 
  14. ^ Hunter, Luke, Hinde, Gerald (2005). Cats of Africa. New Holland Publishers. pp. 61–62. ISBN 177007063X. 
  15. ^ Eklund, Robert. "4.2 Purring serval". Retrieved 7 March 2013. 
  16. ^ Tonkin, B.A. (1972). "Notes on longevity in three species of felids". International Zoo Yearbook 12: 181–182. doi:10.1111/j.1748-1090.1972.tb02319.x. 
  17. ^ Tessa Canniff (author), Karen Francl (editor), Gail McCormick (editor). "Leptailurus serval". University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.  - Additional references are given in the section of the web page linked.
  18. ^ CITES Appendices. cites.org
  19. ^ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2011). Leptailurus serval constantina. Endangered Species Act.
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