The Serval Leptailurus serval, is a medium-sized African wild cat. Molecular DNA analysis indicates Servals descended from the same ancient Felid ancestor as the Lion, but the Serval maintains its own unique lineage and does not branch from any other cat species, although they appear to share common traits with the Cheetah. However, similar studies has shown the serval to be closely related to the African Golden Cat and the Caracal. The length is 85-112 cm (33-44 in), plus 30-50 cm (12-20 in) of tail, and the shoulder height is about 54-66 cm (21-26 in). Weight ranges from 9 to 16 kg (20-35 lbs) in females, and from 12 to 26 kg (26-57 lbs) in males.
Life expectancy is about 1216 years in the wild, and up to 2025 years in captivity. It is a strong yet slender animal, with long legs and a fairly short tail. The head is small in relation to the body, and the tall, oval ears are set close together. The pattern of the fur is variable. Usually, the Serval is boldly spotted black on tawny, with 2 or 4 stripes from the top of the head down the neck and back, transitioning into spots. The “servaline” form has much smaller, freckled spots. In addition, melanism is known to exist in this species, giving a similar appearance to the black panther. White servals are white with silvery grey spots and have only occurred in captivity.
Its main habitat is the savanna, although melanistic individuals are more usually found in mountainous areas. The Serval needs watercourses within its territory, so it does not live in semi-deserts or dry steppes. It is able to climb and swim, but seldom does so. It has now dwindled in numbers due to human population taking over its habitat and also hunting its pelt. It is protected in most countries. The Serval is listed in CITES Appendix 2, indicating that it is “not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.”
Hunting and Diet
Although the Serval is specialized for catching rodents, it is an opportunistic predator whose diet also includes birds, hares, hyraxes, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs. The Serval has been observed taking larger animals, such as deer, gazelle, and springbok, but over 90% of the Serval’s prey weighs less than 200g (7 oz).