Serval

A serval observes prey from its perch in a tree.

The serval is a handsome cat with a striped and spotted and large, satellite-like ears.

Name:
Serval
Scientific Name:
Leptailurus serval
Weight
9 to 18 kg
Shoulder Height:
54 to 62 cm
Mating Season:
Throughout the year

Description

Servals are leanly built, light tan colored cats, much like cheetahs. Their bodies are also covered in spots like a cheetah, but their spots are slightly larger and may merge to form a type of stripe on their sides and their ears are also more catlike and visible than those of the cheetah. There are also both black and white markings behind their ears. Their average weight range usually starts at  8 kg (18lb) but can go as high as 18 kg (40lb), with variations based on environment and climate, but no real divide between sexes.

Distribution

The Serval is another of the common cat species of Africa who regularly tease livestock populations in rural areas and are kept an eye on by dwarf antelopes. Their distribution starts in coastal regions of the Transkei in South Africa where the sub-tropical climate and denser cover offers an adequate hunting ground for them. From there they can be found on into areas near the Kruger National Park, throughout Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia as well as parts of Somalia in the East. In the west they occupy parts of Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia more south and parts of the DRC, Angola and central Africa going on into Eastern Africa bordering the Sahara Desert.

Status

Like other small cats, Servals are in no threat to being endangered and are quite common cats, although shy in nature. Their populations show us this and are considered to be stable, gradually growing even. Population densities of Servals are naturally low because they inhabit areas with lots of growth, but live totally solitary and isolated lifestyles. Around 1 individual every 2 square kilometer is a fair population density among them, with a density of 0,1 individuals recorded in Zambia for every square kilometer of land the bare minimum among thriving population areas.

Habitat

It is no coincidence that they have abnormally large ears, as they use them to find, identify and catch their specialty prey in an instant. They are known for catching very small mammals, mostly consisting of rodents such as mice and shrews, along with birds. They torment the same animals a typical house cat would in addition to some more exclusively wild prey such as the young of small antelope. Their prey of choice is mostly found in areas of medium to tall grass, and it is in these grasslands or woodlands that they are usually found as local residents. They are specially adapted for this kind of habitat with their long legs which help them look from above the grass and jump when necessary.

Social Organization

Servals live alone and happily so, avoiding contact with other servals of the same or opposite gender as far as possible for most of the year. They are also territorial animals, although the home range of one Serval might overlap with that of a number of others, indicating that they are probably only territorial when it comes to a small part of their home range where they go to rest. Two servals may walk through or even hunt within the same part of their respective home ranges which overlap, just days apart and may even catch a glimpse of one another without any hostility.

Social Behavior

Their territorial side allows them to mark objects around the centre of their home range, usually by urination or by rubbing their faces against them like house cats regularly do. Furthermore they hunt in free time, looking and listening for any slight movements of prey that might be passing. They then silently stalk prey in typical feline fashion before pouncing at the exact right moment to deliver an instant killer blow. The only interactions they have with others of their kind are with newly born and still dependent young for whom they care and provide until they are able to do this themselves and adopt the same isolated lifestyle their parents had.

Reproduction

Breeding time is another time of the year when Servals leave beyond their solitary lives to be with others. During the time when females go into heat for a brief period a pair may be seen going about their daily lives together, while mating in between all this before finally parting with each other and going their separate ways again. The gestation period of the female is between 65 and 75 days during which the 2 to 3 young they usually bare grow from embryos to the small cats seen when a mother gives birth, although they may have as much 5 kittens in a single litter.

Anti-Predator Behavior

The presence of larger or pack animals is very unwelcome to Servals. Their response is usually one fueled by fear. They typically duck, run or find shelter as soon as possible because of their vulnerability. Hyenas are the most common enemies which they avoid at all costs, especially in areas where they encounter one another more regularly in places like Tanzania. When they are faced by other small cat species such as Caracals or small spotted cats they would presumably react very similar to how house cats react to visitors, by hissing or clawing at them until one of the parties finally chooses to take off.

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