Denver Zoo Map

Leptailurus serval

SERVAL


Classification

Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Leptailurus
Species: serval

Exhibits

Fun Facts

  • The serval has the longest legs (in proportion to their bodies) and biggest ears of any cat species.
  • Servals can hear high frequency sounds made by rodents moving underground.
  • Individual servals can be identified by the unique pattern of spots, stripes and rings on their fur because no two servals have exactly the same markings.
  • Servals are successful at hunting about 50% of the time – a higher success rate than lions.
  • The serval, one of 30 species of small cat, is sometimes referred to as the “Savannah Stalker” because of its superb hunting skills on the grasslands of Africa

SERVAL


Distribution

Sub-Saharan Africa

Habitat

Scrub brush, tall grass, dry reed beds and marshlands close to a water source. Not found on open dry savannas, tropical rainforests, or the western tip of South Africa.

Physical Description

  • Servals are 41-61 inches (104-155 cm) long including the tail.
  • Males weigh 22-40 pounds (10-18 kg), and females weigh 19-27 pounds (8.5-12 kg).
  • They stand about 22 inches (56 cm) at the shoulder.
  • They have tawny gold fur marked with solid black spots that merge to form stripes extending from the neck down the sides of the body. The spots merge to form rings on the tail, which has a black tip.
  • Servals have long necks, long legs, small heads and the largest ears of any cat species.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild: Small rodents, hares, ground birds, reptiles, fish, frogs, and insects
At the zoo: Nebraska brand feline diet and chicks

What Eats It?

Leopards, wild dogs, hyenas, and humans prey on the serval.

Social Organization

Servals are solitary cats except for mating pairs or females with kittens. They are crepuscular (active at dawn and dusk) and nocturnal. Their primary forms of communication are through urine spraying and by rubbing saliva on objects.

Life Cycle

Servals are sexually mature between 18-24 months of age. Mating is non-seasonal. The female builds a den in tall, thick grass or shrubbery and gives birth to a litter of one to five kittens after a gestation of about 73- 75 days. The kittens open their eyes at nine to 12 days and begin to take solid food around three weeks of age. They are independent between six and eight months and are forced out of the mother’s territory by the time they reach sexual maturity. Servals can live 15 years in the wild and 20 years in captivity.

Adaptations

High Jumping and Speed Racing

Servals have long necks to help them search for prey animals in tall grass. Their long muscular legs allow them to leap nearly 10 feet in the air to strike prey with their front paws. They can leap 13 feet horizontally to pounce on prey. They are the second fastest cat and can run up to 45 mph for short distances.

Super Hearing

Their large round ears help them hear extremely well to locate prey. Their ears are mobile and can be moved 180 degrees. They can hear high frequency sounds such as those made by rodents tunneling underground enabling servals to locate prey they cannot see.

Can You See Me Now?

Most cats have a background fur color that is similar to the color of their primary habitat. The spots and stripes on the serval’s tawny fur helps them blend into their surroundings and conceals them from prey animals as they move through the tall grass on the savannas of Africa. There are a few melanistic (black) servals that have adapted to higher altitudes in Kenya.

Conservation Connection

IUCN Status: Least Concern.
Servals are a threatened species due to habitat loss and illegal poaching for their beautiful fur. The annual burning of grassland areas is also a threat for servals and they are sometimes captured for the pet trade. Leopards, wild dogs and hyenas also prey on servals.

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