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What is an African Serval?

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordatra

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Carnivora

Family: Felidae

Subfamily: Felinae

Genus: Leptailurus

Species: Leptailurus serval

The Serval is considered to be a medium sized cat however what set them apart from other cats is their long legs, big ears, sleek elongated neck and unusual patterns consisting of spots and stripes. The spots located on the backbone tend to overlap and form a series of parallel strips from the back of the head to the shoulders. Smaller spots are on face.
The tail is of medium length, with horizontal row of spots on the topside often extending around the sides, giving it a striped appearance. The tail does not get in the way of pouncing and is not used as a rudder like the Cheetah uses its long tail.

Their coloring can range from tawny gray, golden tan, to reddish brown with black spots and stripes. They are sometimes referred to as the small Cheetah. White fur is on the chin and upper neck area.

On the backs of their ears are black and white stripes. Stripes run down their necks to spotted patterns on their bodies.

They weigh between 20 to 40lbs for males and 20 to 30 lbs for females and the males are about 20 inches high at the shoulder. There have been Servals documented to be 45 lbs. The Serval also has spongy pads on their feet that combined with their long legs, enables them to jump over 10 feet from a standing position and pounce on their prey. In proportion to body size, they have the longest legs of all the cats. This allows them to peer over the tall grass in search of prey. The Serval uses it’s agility to rise up on its hind legs and stomp the ground with its forefeet, pouncing on intended prey. They have been known to enter the water after frogs.

Excellent climbers and extremely fast, this small agile predator is an excellent hunter. Added to this, their large ears give them an extraordinary ability to “hear” their prey without even seeing it in the tall grass.

They usually eat birds, rodents, hares and in the wetter areas, small frogs and reptiles.

Servals range a large area of Africa from the grassy, moist regions around rainforests to the wooded savannas, dry open grasslands, and scrub forests. They are not found it desert areas.

Because of their beautiful markings, they have been hunted extensively and are no longer found in the Southern Cape regions or North of the Sahara. They are more abundant in West and Eastern Africa. They are considered to be a “threatened” species.

Their litters are small, usually two or three kittens. Their gestation period is longer than the domestic cat.

Because of their outgoing, loving personality, Servals have been kept as pets in Africa for many years and even in the United States. They have been found to be loyal, devoted and bond well with their owners, however, this makes if especially difficult for them to adapt to another new home as an adult.

These exotic cats require special permits to possess in the United States. Some cities and States consider them illegal to own.


- Leptailurus serval serval, Cape Province (extinct)
- Leptailurus serval beirae, Mozambique
- Leptailurus serval brachyura, West Africa, Sahel, Ethiopia
- Leptailurus serval constantina, Algeria (endangered)
- Leptailurus serval hamiltoni, eastern Transvaal
- Leptailurus serval hindeio, Tanzania
- Leptailurus serval ingridi, Namibia, southern Botswana, Zimbabwe
- Leptailurus serval kempi, Uganda
- Leptailurus serval kivuensis, Congo
- Leptailurus serval liposticta, northern Angola
- Leptailurus serval lonnbergi, southern Angola
- Leptailurus serval mababiensis, northern Botswana
- Leptailurus serval robertsi, western Transvaal
- Leptailurus serval togoensis, Togo, Benin


Red Nova-Reference Library

Posted Thursday, 2 June, 2005, http://www.rednova.com

Article by Karen Jagschitz
Animal Diversity Web: http://www.animaldiversity