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  ScienceZoologyMammalsOrder CarnivoraFamily Felidae


Leptailurus serval


The serval has the longest ears and legs relative to overall size of all cats, as well as a long neck and relatively small head. It is a medium-sized cat, with a body length of 23-36 inches, height of 21-26 inches, and weight of 19-40 pounds.

The generally light brown fur is covered with black spots and stripes, the pattern of which is unique to each individual animal. Markings start on the top of the head, running between the ears and down the neck and forming four distinct stripes which break into spots on reaching the shoulders. The serval's relatively short tail is banded with black rings and ends in a black tip. Individuals that originated from grasslands tend to have larger spots than those found in forests.

Distribution and Habitat

The greatest numbers of servals reside in southern Africa, especially in Zimbabwe and the province of Natal. Small populations are located in the Atlas Mountains, as well as Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia, and south of the Sahara. Due to relocation efforts, members of this species can also now be found in northern Tanzania

They are most commonly found in reed beds and grasslands, but also spend time in forest brush, bamboo thickets, marshes, and streams within their home range.


Servals hunt primarily during the early morning and late afternoon, and occasionally at night. Over 90% of the diet consists of small mammals (especially rodents), with birds (caught both on the ground and by leaping up to 9 feet into the air), insects, reptiles, and rarely carrion.

To begin hunting, a serval first scans 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. If prey is detected, the ears prick up and rotate to pinpoint its location. Once the location of prey has been established, the serval slinks forward and then suddenly pounces. The prey is held down with the front paws until a death bite is delivered to the neck. If prey is heard beneath the soil, a serval will rummage, dig, and sniff to either reach or flush the critter out. One of the best hunters in the cat family, servals make a kill in about half of all tries, compared to an average of only one of every five or six attempts for other cats.


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.

After mating, the female looks for a suitable den in which to give birth and raise her young. Dens vary from dense shrubs to holes under rocks or abandoned burrows. Two or three kittens are born after a gestation period of 10-11 weeks. The kittens double in size within their first 11 days, are weaned at about 5 months, and are independent by the end of their first year. All parental care is provided by the mother.

Servals have an average lifespan of about 10 years in the wild.

Other Habits and Behaviors

Servals are not social, but in some cases, when a male and female encounter each other, they may travel, hunt, and rest together for short periods.

Both sexes maintain territories, the boundaries of which are scent marked. Female ranges do not overlap with other females, but may overlap with those of several males.

Like many other cats, servals are good tree climbers. Unlike many cats, they will happily wade into water after prey.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
genus & species Leptailurus serval

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  The Robinson Library > Science > Zoology > Mammals > Order Carnivora > Family Felidae

This page was last updated on September 08, 2016.

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