Serval Key Facts

* Unique to Africa * Very large ears * Pounces on prey *

Serval Information 

SCIENTIFIC NAME Leptailurus serval 

NAME ORIGIN The name Serval is derived from a Portuguese word meaning "deer-like wolf" (cervus = deer). In Africa it is commonly referred to as a 'bush cat', and in Afrikaans (South Africa) it is known as a tierboskat which means 'tiger bush cat'. 

SIZE Servals are similar in size to Caracals and also classed as medium sized cats, however they are more slender and taller. Adults range from 9 to 13 kgs.

IMAGE Serval Hissing by Gerald Hinde
IDENTIFICATION Serval have a combination of spots and stripes on their coats, and they have very large rounded ears for picking up the sounds of prey in long grasses. 

UNIQUE BEHAVIOUR The Serval has a very characteristic pouncing technique when hunting rodents. It leaps high into the air and then lands on the prey with its forepaws, stunning the prey in the process (see video).

HISTORY The Serval was the symbol of the Italian Tomasi family, princes of the island of Lampedusa. Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, wrote the famous Italian novel 'IlGattopardo'. Despite being known as 'The Leopard' in English, the Italian title actually refers to a Serval. The Serval's North African range is near Lampedusa.

Video: Serval Vs. Guinea Fowl by Smithsonian Channel

Serval Distribution

Serval only occur in Africa, inhabiting the wetter areas and are absent from the deserts in the north and south west.

View the most recent IUCN Serval distribution map.

IMAGE Serval Distribution Map - reproduced with permission from the book Cats of Africa

Serval Description

BODY The Serval is a slender cat with long legs and a short tail. It is similar in size to the Caracal. The legs are proportionally the longest to its body size of all the wild cats. 

COAT The coat pattern is variable but usually pale yellow with different sized spots, some of which merge into longitudinal stripes down the back and neck. The underparts are paler but usually also spotted. The tail has black rings and has a black tip. Melanistic Servals occur with the spotted pattern still showing through on the dark coat.

IMAGE Serval Physical Features - Image by Chris and Tilde Stuart
HEAD The large, rounded ears are set close together and are a distinguishing feature of Servals. They have the largest ears proportionally to their body size of all the cat species. The backs of the ears are black with a distinct white patch across the centre. 

AGE In the wild - up to 11 years In captivity - up to 20 years

IMAGE Serval Facial Characteristics - Image by Gerald Hinde

More Serval Information and Facts

  1. ARKive Videos and Photos taken in the wild
    ARKive - Wildlife imagery Serval
  2. International Society for Endangered Cats (ISEC)
    International Society for Endangered Cats - Serval Fact Sheet
  3. IUCN Cat Specialist Group
    IUCN Cat Specialist Group - Serval
ARKive video - Serval hunting and catching rodents

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