Here are the key serval characteristics to help you distinguish it when on safari:
- Large head
- Round ears that are close to each other
- Oversized ears when compared to the rest of their bod
- The ears are usually black and have a white patch in the middle
- Body Type: Slender with a short tail and long legs, probably the longest relative to size out of all wild cats
- Coat: This may vary between different servals, however, almost all have a pale yellow coat with spots that vary in size, superficially similar to a cheetah or leopard
Range & habitat
Servals are found only in Africa. There are small populations in Morocco and Tunisia, and are relatively common in East and Southern Africa. They don’t live in any African deserts – or the Sahel – but are found in a variety of grassy habitats that are moist, and are often seen around water sources in habitats such as:
- Reed beds
- Grass savannahs
They may easily adapt to agricultural areas, and have been found at elevations of up to 3,800 meters in Kenya and in Ethiopia.
Their diet is carnivorous and they predominantly prey on small mammals, such rats and other rodents. When rodents are not available servals will hunt birds, insects, fish, snakes, and frogs.
Servals are known for only killing small prey, but mature adults can take bigger prey – particularly if there and young goats or sheep within their range.
Behaviour & lifestyle
Whilst the serval has evolved to survive the African wilderness, it’s not a particularly aggressive species, which has led it to be interbred with domestic cats to create exotic pets. These felines are diurnal – active in both the day and the night.
Their true superpower comes from a unique and intelligent hunting behavior. When on the trail of their prey in reeds or tall grass, the serval will close its eyes and focus on their amazing sense of hearing to accurately locate the prey. Servals have longer ears than any other cat and this makes their hearing brilliant and a great asset to surviving in the Savannah. Once it has located the prey, it will pounce on it with a leap of up to founr meters high so that the prey is below them, with no way to escape.
Apart from leaping, the serval also locates prey hiding and living inside crevices and holes. It digs out their prey from such places, with the aid of their extremely long legs.
The female population of the serval only holds exclusive territories while the male holds twice the number of females. They mark their territories through their scrape marks and scent.
Unusually for wild cats, male servals tend to be social, with groups often seen resting together in the daytime.
Fun serval facts
- Lions are successful in 30% of their hunts, while the serval is has a 50% success rate – making it a more efficient hunter than a lion.
- Some people keep these servals or servals crossbred with a domestic cat as a pet.
- Female servals spend more time hunting than males as they need to feed their offspring.
Meet the serval
Have you have the chance to observe the wonderful serval on an African safari? Let us know in the comments below!
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