The serval (Leptailurus serval) is a medium-sized African wild cat. It has a length of 33.46 in (85 cm), plus 15.75 in (40 cm) tail. It is a slender animal, with long legs and a fairly short tail. The tall, oval ears are set close together. The pattern of the fur is variable. Usually, servals are boldly spotted black on tawny. The “Servaline” form has much smaller, freckled spots. White servals are white with silvery grey spots and have only occurred in captivity.
Its main habitat is the savanna. Servals need watercourses within their territory, so they do not live in semi-deserts or dry steppes. They are able to climb and swim, but they seldom do so. They have now dwindled down in numbers, due to human population taking over their habitat and hunting them for their pelts. They are protected in most countries.
Although the serval is highly specialized for catching rodents, it is an opportunistic predator. Its diet also includes hares, hyraxes, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs. Servals have been observed taking larger animals, such as small antelopes.
As part of their adaptations for hunting in the savannas, servals boast long legs (the longest of all cats, relative to body size) and large ears. The long legs and neck allow the serval to see over tall grasses. Its ears are used to detect rodents, even those burrowing underground. While hunting, servals will pause for up to 15 minutes at a time to listen with eyes closed. The serval’s pounce is a distinctive vertical ‘hop’, which may be an adaptation for catching flushed birds. Servals are highly efficient hunters, catching prey on as many as 50% of attempts. This stat is compared to around one of ten for most species of cat.
Servals eat very quickly, sometimes eating too fast and regurgitating the food because of clogging in the throat. The litter consists of two or three young (called cubs or kittens), sometimes as few as one or as many as five. They are raised in sheltered locations like abandoned aardvark burrows. If such an ideal location is not available, a place behind a shrub may be sufficient. Leopards sometimes prey upon servals. More dangerous for this cat are humans. Servals were extensively hunted for their fur. They are still common in West and East Africa, but they are extinct in the South African Cape Province and very rare north of the Sahara.
Though they are not domesticated animals, servals are sometimes kept as pets (particularly in the United States).