The Serval Cat - An African Wildcat
The African Serval Cat
The Serval Cat - (Leptailurus serval)
The serval cat of Africa is a unique and little known wildcat. It only lives south of the Sarah and is mainly nocturnal, so is not seen in the wild often. The serval cat is closely related to the Golden cat and the caracal but has some very unique traits. Learn more about this beautiful African wildcat with photos and video.
The Serval cat, (Leptailurus serval), which in Portuguese means "wolf-deer", it also known as the "tiger forest cat" and the "cat of spare parts". It is native to the Africa regions south of the Sahara. Their primary habitat is the savannah but they can be found in tall grasslands, forest, woods, marshes and some mountainous regions below 10,000 feet. The serval's home will always be near a water source, such as a river or lake. They can swim, but prefer not to. Their habitat overlaps with that of the caracal cat, but there is little competition as the caracal is a larger wildcate and usually hunts larger prey than the serval.
The serval is a medium sized wild cat ranging from 23 to 36 inches in body length and a shoulder height of about 21 to 26 inches. Females typically weigh between 15 to 26 pounds and males weigh from 20 to 40 pounds.Their tail is relatively short for their size at approximately 8 to 18 inches in length, with black bands and a black tip.
The serval's coat is a tawney or gold color with bold black rosettes, with their underside being lighter in color. They have 2 to 4 stripes running from the top of their head, down their neck which transition into spots as they reach the back. Servals are many times illegally hunted for the beautiful pelts.
One of the most obvious and interesting traits of the serval, is their ears. They have proportionally large pointed disc-like ears which allows them extraordinarily good hearing. They can hear ultra-sonic sounds omitted by mice, rats, moles and other small rodents. This allows them to "home in" on their prey before they can see them, even those that are burrowing underground. The back of the ears are black with a noticeable white band, which is used to communicate with other servals.
The serval also has an elongated neck which allows them to see over the tall grass of the savannah. The servals legs are longer than any other cat, relative to their size, and the back legs are longer than the front legs. It's long legs also help it to reach an estimated running speed of up to 50 miles per hour.
Hunting and Diet
The serval is mainly a nocturnal cat, but will also hunt in the early morning hours and late dusk. Although the ears of the serval are specialized for hunting rodents, they may also hunt birds, reptiles, frogs, fish and insects. The have been seen hunting small deer, antelope and springbok, but it is rare. The long legs of the serval allow it to jump at heights of 7 to 10 feet to snatch birds right out of the air. They are also able to leap up into the air and pounce on their prey with enough power to stun their catch so it can't try to run away.
With the aid of their unusually large ears, elongated neck and long legs, the serval is an excellent hunter! Most cat species have a 10% success rate in hunting. The serval cat boasts a 50% success rate, which makes it one of the best hunters among wildcat breeds.
Reproduction and Life Span
Baby servals are called kittens. The female serval will normally bear more than 1 litter per year. Normal litters are 2 kittens, but sometimes may be only 1 or as many as 4. Shortly after breeding, the female will begin to look for a den in which to have her kittens. She may find the abandoned burrow of an aardvark or, if a den is not available, she may make do with a place beneath a shrub or the hollowed out portion of a tree.
The kittens will weigh approximately 8-9 ounces at birth and are blind and helpless. They will open their eyes around 9 to 13 days of age and will begin to eat solid food at one month old. Their canines will not be fully developed until they are about 5 to 6 months old, at which time they will begin to hunt on their own. They will remain with their mother until and are about 1 year of age at which time they will go out on their own.
The normal life span of the serval is approximately 10 years in the wild. However, the longest living serval, in the wild, lived an estimated 23 years. Their normal life span in captivity is approximately 22 years.
The serval cat is not considered as a threatened species. However, their numbers are dwindling due to man encrouching on their habitats and being illegally hunted for their beautifu pelts. The serval as recently been re-introduced into Tunisia, which had previously been a natural haitat for them.
The Serval Cat as a Pet
The serval has become popular by some people who try to keep them as pets. This is not suggested. The serval will likely not trust anyone unless they were raised from a small kitten by them. Unlike a common house cat, if the sesrval is allowed outside on it's own, it is not likely to return to you. Once the serval cat reaches maturity, it's instincts tell it that it is time for it to go out on its own. Remember, this is a wild animal and has very strong hunting instincts. You will not be able to have any other small pets, for the next 20 years! Several states within the US have outlawed keeping a serval as a pet.
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© 2013 Sheila Brown
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