Serval (Sp), Servalkatze (G), Serval, Chat-tigre, Lynx tacheté (F), Tierboskat (Af). "Serval" is derived from the Portuguese name lobo-cerval for the European lynx, and mistakenly applied to this animal.
DESCRIPTION Head and body length 26-39 inches (66-99 cm). Tail 9-1/2 to 14 inches (24-36 cm). Shoulder height 21-24 inches (53-61 cm). Weight (male) 22-40 lbs (10-18 kg), average 29 lbs (13 kg); (female) 19-28 lbs (9-13 kg), average 24 lbs (11 kg). The female normally has two pairs of teats.
The serval is an elegant, medium-sized cat, tall and lightly built, with long legs and neck, small head, large ears and a beautifully spotted coat. It has the longest legs of all cats in relation to its size. The coat usually ranges from dark gold to off-white on the upper parts and is marked with black spots that tend to merge into stripes on the neck and back. The underparts are paler, often white. The tail is short, with black rings and a black tip. There is a good deal of individual variation in color and pattern, and in the size of spots and width of stripes. Servals from West Africa often exhibit a pattern of small, speckled spots and were once believed to constitute a separate species, the so-called servaline; however, they are now considered to be an abnormally marked variant. Black (melanistic) servals have been widely recorded and are common in East Africa. Occasionally a serval will have no spots at all.
BEHAVIOR Basically solitary, though related males may hunt together and females are sometimes seen with cubs. Maintain territories but do not seem to defend them. A male's territory may overlap that of several females. Seems to be no definite breeding season. Females are able to give birth twice a year. Litter size 1-4 after about 73 days gestation. The young are independent at 6-8 months and sexually mature at 18-24 months. Longevity in the wild unknown, in captivity as much as 19 years.
Mainly nocturnal, but sometimes active at twilight. Diet is mainly rodents, but also frogs, lizards and other small animals that are located in high grass by hearing and sight. Small birds are also captured by remarkable vertical leaps. Able to run fast for short distances, swims well, but does not normally climb trees.
HABITAT Grass savanna with plentiful water, particularly reedbeds, at all altitudes. Not in rain forest.
DISTRIBUTION Widely distributed and often numerous in most of Africa south of the Sahara except for the equatorial rain forest, the horn of Somalia, and arid parts of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa. May still be found in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.
TAXONOMIC NOTES Six subspecies are listed, but we do not separate them.