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Serval - Leptailurus serval

By: C.M.Shorter

The Serval is an unusual looking, medium sized cat with a broad territory throughout Africa and occupies much the same range as the African Lion.

My what big ears you have! I am sure you noticed - aren't they cute! These exceptionally large ears serve a very important purpose. Servals use these large ears like radar funnels to locate birds and flush them out of tall grass areas where they perform remarkable aerial acrobatic skills. Proficient hunters, Servals have been seen jumping over 10 ft in the air knocking a startled bird down in one fell swoop. The Caracal and Lynx both have this type of "ear tuft" although their ears are pointed and not nearly as rounded as those of the Serval. Caracals also share the African plains with the Serval whereby the Lynx is found in Canada, North America and Asia. Caracals are such efficient bird hunters they are actually used in airport bird control programs which Jason & Dave tell us about in the TigerHomes DVD: PowerCats "Locked & Loaded".

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It is estimated the North African Serval has been isolated from the sub-Sarahan species for a very long period - perhaps as long as 6,000 to 7,000 years with only a small isolated pocket existing there . Servals are becoming increasingly rare in North Africa with no confirmed sightings in the countries of Algeria, Morocco, or Tunisia since the late 1930s where they once flourished. Servals who make the southern portion of Africa home live among a wide variety of habitats including the coastal areas, through into the savannah woodlands, ranging up into mountainous terrain up to 10,000 feet in elevation.

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The Serval's name originates from a Portuguese word meaning "wolf-deer". They do strike an unusual appearance - coats are light tan in color with beautiful dark spot markings that merge into longitudinal stripes. They have long legs for sprinting and jumping to catch those birds! Upon first impression from a distance they might be mistaken for a small deer and were perhaps so by the early Europeans traveling into Africa. Melanistic individuals do occur, particularly in moist climates and at extreme high altitudes of their range.

Servals are crepuscular and nocturnal, but have been seen hunting during daylight hours particularly when caring for young. Social interaction is limited but they do travel and sleep together. Males in the South Africa have twice the size of range than their northern counterparts. Extremely territorial, male Servals patrol territory bounds frequently and have been observed scent marking as many as 40-50 times each hour. Where the Cheetah uses their long legs for the world record speed chases, the Serval uses their long limbs to jump more in the fashion of an antelope - springing up out of high grass to catch prey in mid-air using their paws to make downward swipes at the target. Primary diet consists of these birds, rodents, snakes, reptiles, frogs and fish. Through the Serengeti each Serval is thought to consume over 4,000 rodents annually! Quite effective pest control, but on the receiving end they are also threatened by ingesting rodent prey that has been poisoned.

Major threats to the Serval are man - primarily by poachers as Servals are still considered a dinner table delicacy through much of their range, wild dogs and leopards. Pelts taken are often sold as young Leopard or Cheetah pelts which are much less common. Serval body parts are still used in for tribal ceremonies and consumed to satisfy ancient medicinal beliefs. Wetland conservation is key to the Serval's long term survival and preservation of habitat, as is true with all of our Wild Cats and Great Cats of the world.

Hunting is prohibited in only 9 of the Serval's 41 range countries and the Serval is not considered an Endangered Species at the present time over most of its range. Overall the Serval species is listed by IUCN as Least Concern, with only the North African Serval listed as Endangered with the species as a whole listed on CITES Appendix II.

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Scientific Name: Leptailurus serval
Common Name(s): Serval
Range: South Eastern Africa, Very limited Northern African population.
Average Weight: 9 - 19kg (20 - 40 lbs)
Length: 91 - 135 cm (41-61")
Diet: Carnivorous. Birds, rodents, snakes, reptiles, frogs and fish.
Gestation Period: 65 - 78 Days
Cub Maturity: 6 - 8 Months
Cubs Per Litter: 1- 5 Kittens
Lifespan: 10 - 12 years. Captive individuals have been recorded to live up to 20 years.
Predators: Leopards, Man, Wild Dogs. Threat: Loss of Habitat, ingestion of poisoned prey.
Social Structure: Solitary, but known to travel and sleep together.
Territory Size: 40 - 72km (23 - 40 miles)
Conservation Status: Overall Placed on CITES Appendix II. North African population listed by IUCN as Endangered. Hunting prohibited in 9 of 41 range countries.

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