Meet the Serval – Africa’s big little cat  

The Serval is either considered to be a very small big cat (by African standards) or the size of a very large domestic cat by UK standards.  These feral felines can weigh up to 50 pounds and look much like mini cheetahs. They have large ears and a yellowish to orange-coated fur covered in black spots, each with their own unique markings. This coloration offers the serval get camouflage when they are hiding in the long grass.

They have an excellent sense of smell, hearing and sight, which they use both for finding the prey and for avoiding predators.  They are also fast – reaching speeds of over 50 miles per hour and capable of leaping up to 3.5 metres in a single bound. They use their long legs for stalking and then pouncing on prey, unlike cheetahs that simply outrun their pray. The serval cat will find its prey by crouching with their eyes closed, listening out with their huge ears for a passing rodent to snack on.

Servals can be found in the wetlands and grasslands of southern and central Africa.  They are highly adaptable and thrive in lush planted areas close to water. They’re at their most active at dawn and dusk, hunting in the tall grass for small rodents and reptiles and have even been spotted taking birds from the sky with their claws given the opportunity.

They are solitary animals and only really ‘socialise’ during mating season.  Pregnant females will make a nest in tall grass to give birth. Kittens are born a grey colour with their spots barely visible, but they grow up quickly, and within two weeks their eyes are open and their coat has taken on the beautiful colouring of an adult Serval.  Kittens drink milk during first five months of their life. After that, they will accompany their mother as she teaches them to hunt. The kittens will stay with their mother for about a year before striking out on their own.

Facts about Servals:

  • Their main predators are humans (who hunt them for fur), leopards, hyenas and wild dogs.
  • Young Servals are often preyed on by eagles and snakes.
  • Servals live on average around 10-12 years in the wild. The oldest known serval lived for 23 years!
  • They are not considered to be endangered. Their numbers in the wild are still strong despite having impacts on their habitat in built up areas.
  • You are lucky if you get the chance to see one as they are small and love to hide in the long grass!  I was one on the lucky ones in May 2019 when I spotted one in the central Serengeti.

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