STATUS IN THE WILD: Least Concern
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
Servals are a medium-sized wild African cat. They are tawny in base color with a black spot and stripe pattern, typically consisting of four main black stripes that run from the head to top of the shoulders. From the shoulders back, the coat is dotted with spots. This coloring helps them blend in with the grasslands where they live. They also have long necks in comparison to their body size. Servals are sometimes referred to as the ‘giraffe cat’ or ‘bush cat.’ They also have large ears and an acute sense of hearing.
Those groups found in higher elevation and dense vegetation can be melanistic having more of a black coat with black spots and stripes. This coloration is a genetic recessive gene and is rare.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
Servals show nocturnal or crepuscular activity patterns. The pattern they follow is normally decided by the activity cycles of their main prey. By being nocturnal or crepuscular, they are also able to avoid the hottest parts of the day.
Servals can purr like most cats. They are also able to hiss, cackle, meow, grunt, and emit a high-pitched chirp. They can also communicate through scent marking by spraying urine onto trees and bushes. This shows where their territory is and keeps other animals out of it. When fighting other servals, they have a ritualistic behavior pattern. They will sit opposite each other, and one will place a paw on the others chest. The other cat will bob his head and potentially bite the paw. Only on rare occasions will this then escalate to a full-on fight.
Overall, servals are solitary animals and only willingly come together in pairs for a few days when the female is in heat. Servals have no set breeding season, however, breeding occurs mostly during the spring months. It is at this time that the local mouse population breeds, meaning food for these cats is plentiful. When the female is ready to mate, she will find a male and court him for a few days. Serval kittens are born in litters of one to four, with two being the most common. The mother hides them well and frequently changes the hiding place. Because the female raises the litter alone, she has to hunt frequently to feed them. When the young are large enough to hunt, the mother drives the males out. Young females remain somewhat longer, but when they become sexually mature, they too leave to establish their own territories.
They are found in most parts of Africa, with the exception of Central Equatorial Africa, the very Southern part of the continent, and the Sahara region. In north Africa, there are only a few recent records of isolated populations in Morocco and northern Algeria.
Servals are common on savannas where there is plenty of water. They prefer areas of bush, tall grass, and reed patches near streams, but they are also found in the mountains, and in thick forests.
Servals eat a great variety of prey, including rodents, birds, reptiles, frogs, and insects. They catch much of their prey by leaping high into the air and pouncing. They have also been seen using their long forelimbs to reach into burrows or to hook fish out of water. They are quite successful hunters and seldom eat carrion.