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The Serval Leptailurus serval (formerly Felis serval) is a strikingly marked African wild cat. It is widely distributed over central, eastern and southern Africa showing a strong preference for savannah type grasslands, especially close to water, but is capable of adapting to a wide variety of habitats. Isolated small and dwindling populations still exist in North Africa in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia (where there is a re-introduction programme). Some authorities recognise thirteen subspecies of Serval Cat.
Servals are medium sized and rarely reach more than 4' long including tail and around 2' at the shoulder. Slender in build they will average about 15 to 25 lbs in weight. The Serval is a spotted cat with strong dark blotches covering its tawny coloured coat. Both Melanistic and Leucistic specimens have been recorded.
Solitary by nature the Serval mainly hunts by night using its excellent hearing and sight to bring down the birds and small mammals which make up the larger proportion of its prey. It will however attack small gazelles and even reptiles and insects. It is an extremely athletic cat and capable of extreme bursts of speeds. The long legs help it reach up to fifty miles an hour over short distances.
Through most of their range the Serval is still fairly common though they are still killed for their skins. In some parts there has been a slight increase in numbers and in others a decrease.
Servals as pets
Hand reared servals can be quite affable animals and so they have become quite popular as exotic pets in some quarters. Regardless though of hand rearing and friendly nature they remain instinctively wild and must never be considered in the same way as a domesticated cat. They can be upredictable and unpredictable means dangerous. Some owners may try and cut down on the risk by the barbarous practice of declawing.
Although the pure Serval remains popular the various breeders try to outdo each other my creating colour mutations and so command a higher price and profile as some less reputable zoos with White Tigers. Other breeders specialise in the breeding of what they term Savannah Cats which are a hybrid created by breeding a domestic cat and a Serval together.
The Savannah cat owner faces the possibility of having to obtain a licence to hold it in some countries and in others it is illegal altogether. Escapes of Servals are not that unusual and there have been several reports of animals seen or caught in the wild in the US. Whereas there has never been a substantiated report of a serval attacking man it is well within their capabilities to do so.
Any deliberate breeding of hybrid or mutation wild animals is wrong and is only entered into for commercial exploitation and for no other reason. The breeding of the African Serval within an official cooperative breeding programme is the only way forward. This will ensure the proper utilisation of the genes and ensure the future of the African Serval.