The serval is a medium sized, but certainly not an average cat. Its proportions are very different from others and his hunting technique too. The serval is a real specialist with better hunting results than average. Its distinctive ears help him with this, in conjunction with the strikingly long legs. For many rodents there is no chance to escape a hunting serval. He hears exactly where prey is present and stalks it. He finishes with a jump and kill the prey under his legs, or share rake , fatal blows out. Different from most cats, he avoids not even burrowing to get his prey.
The serval is slim built and reaches easily a height of 60 cm, equal to the length from shoulder to tail. Weights range from 9 to 18 kilos, in which males are heavier than females. With an average of 14 kilos of weight they do not differ greatly from other medium-sized cats like pardel lynx and ocelot. However, he lacks the typical stocky, low building on sturdy legs. The serval has a small body on higher stilts with a long neck and short tail. Comparatively, he is the highest of all cats at his legs. The head is small with a short snout while the shell-shaped ears, placed high on the head are striking. It looks like the construction of a cheetah. Nevertheless, the serval is not known as a runner. He's not a sprinter but rather a jumper. It is striking that in fact the foot is strong and extended and not to the leg itself, as is typical for runners. The fur is yellowish brown with black round or elongated spots and stripes in the neck and shoulders. The ventral side is white and also at the head occurs white. The tail has rings and a black top. On the head, between the ears start lines backwards who fall apart later in spots and stripes. The back of the ears is black, with a white horizontal band. Melanic (black) forms have been observed.
Originally suitable habitats over the whole of Africa were inhabited by the serval. The serval is pushed back but also able to recolonize areas again. He is widespread distributed south of the Sahara, with the exception of tropical rainforests and deserts. And there it does not seem threatened. In the Sahel zone it is rare.
The situation above the Sahara, in the North African countries bordering the Mediterranean, is completely different. Here the species is considered critically endangered. It is found in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and north Algeria (personal communication with. K. de Smet) and (probably) extinct in Tunisia, but there reintroduced into the Feijda National Park with animals of East Africa. Distribution and numbers in these countries are not sufficiently known.
It is obvious that, for a mammal specie with such a wide distribution that there may develop locally subspecies. Certainly for the animals that have lived isolated for a long time above the Sahara is there a realistic chance present. Without going into detail, it is certainly important to secure the genetic forms in North Africa for the future by protecting these animals.
The serval is mainly a tall grass and reeds resident, in addition its home range can cover bamboo forests, forests with developed shrub layer, marshes and streams.They inhabit a variety of habitats characterized by the presence of water. Especially the wet, tall grass savanna is rich in rodents and is preferred by the serval. The height at which it is found varies between 1,400 and 2,200 meters Dry areas are inhabited by exception and he is entirely absent from the tropical rainforest.
In north Africa, the Serval is not mentioned of the steppe region, but from maquis, forests and mixed forests with glades
The serval feeds primarily on small mammals, besides rodents like rats and mice also shrews. Together these make more than 90% of its diet. With a preference for the larger rodents. This is supplemented by 5% of birds and occasionally insects, frogs, lizards and rarely carrion. From the additions only frogs are eaten in substantial numbers. Among the cats are servals exceptionally good hunters with a success rate of 48%. The hunt is divided into several time periods during the night and early morning. Striking is the observation that the hunting early in the morning has a lower degree of success, but a higher yield than the evening. Of about 10 compared to 6
The serval mainly uses his good hearing, while hunting. He prefers to look for places with good listening conditions where his foot produces little noise, such as along trails and paths. And cover in daytime distances twice as much(2.4 km) as at night. They locate their prey by sharp listening and will stand motionless regularly for some time with pointed ears. Once a victim discovered, he positions it exactly by moving his ears and sneaks closer to bring his prey inside jumping distance away. That means a high arc jump which can range from 1 to 4 meters, landing with his front paws on top of the prey. Servals stay preferably in coverage and sneak for a minimum through open terrain. Prey can even be heard underground, and then excavated. With the capture of birds they have more trouble, though they jump up to 1.5 meters high to make a catch. If successful, a victim is plucked before eating.
Servals are no social animals, but in some cases, pairs may go for quite some time with each other. The territory will be highlighted in various ways. That may be by spraying urine, feces, open up the soil by scraping or rubbing cheeks against trees and shrubs while passing, marking with fragrance from glands. These activities increase when they observe the presence of congeners.
Home-ranges have a size of 11.6 to 20 square kilometers. The size is influenced by the presence of prey, water and the degree of coverage. (Increases their hunting success) The regions of females do not mutually overlap with each other, but may overlap with males. Males mate with several females. Servals do not have a real breeding period, although more often in the spring.
After a gestation period of 10 to 11 weeks usually two to three pups are born who double their weight of about 250 grams in the first 10 days, with 5 months they are weaned and a month later they have their permanent canines. The female cares for applying prey and males play no role at all. Cups stay for a year with their mother until they are banned from her territory. Then they have to find their own territory. What in males may take 1 to 2 years. They are sexually mature around the time of independence, ranging from 18 to 24 months. For most animals childhood counts as a critical period to survive, for those who did, the life expectancy increases significant. For servals in captivity, this means more than 20 years, where wildlife have a chance to reach about half.
Outside humans, servals have enemies who are also competitors for food and habitat. The most important are leopards and hyenas. The serval avoids confrontations and generally prefers to flee. In residential areas dogs are added to this list.
Servals are valued by their slender form, which has led to the fact that they are held and traded as exotic pets. They are also crossed to a pet breed. The 'savannah'. And of course, they contribute to the value of ecotourism in some African countries. In addition, the fur is of value, and is used to manufacture of mantles, which used to be carried by heads of strains. Nowadays he often is poached for its valuable fur and the skin becomes often offered as a young leopard or cheetah, which are scarce. The skins are loved for African ceremonies and by medicine men. And of course, tourism. More than for the international fur trade.
A more serious threat, is making its habitat unsuitable by burning tall grass vegetation and overgrazing by livestock, thus decreasing rodent populations.
By some strains serval meat is eaten as a delicacy.
Where poultry falls prey, this may create a conflict with the owner. However, the serval plays for agricultural activity no negative role. Its high proportion of rodent control is even appreciated. Especially since there are hardly any other livestock victims. For Sub-Saharan African servals especially wetland conservation counts as a key factor for healthy populations.
For the whole of Africa, the species is not threatened, though the size of suitable habitat is changing by human intervention. Vigilance is certainly in place. The IUCN stated serval on its red list of threatened species as "least Concerned" not threatened. At CITES, the serval is listed in Appendix II.
For North Africa, above the Sahara, the situation is completely different. They were found there in the semi-deserts in the south to the cork oak forests on the Mediterranean coast.
In Tunisia the species was (probably) extinct but reintroduced in the Feijda National Park.
In the Atlas Mountains, the species still exist for both Morocco (Cuzin 2003) and north Algeria. (K. De Smet personal. comment) A recent observation from the Moyen Atlas demonstrates this. Yet there is hardly anything known and there is urgently a research project required to confirm its presence and distribution. NABCS will provide its expertise and the use of camera traps, in tight cooperation with enthousiastic locals or groups. In a program involving several large carnivores to be examined on presence. So that a better understanding of current populations, status and threats can be obtained as a base to further focus on practical protection.