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At Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus: Leptailurus
Species: Leptailurus serval

The Serval (Leptailurus serval) is a species of wild cat which lives in Africa. It is the largest species in its genus.


Its adult length is about 32 inches (body) and 16 inches (tail) and weighs about four pounds.[3] There are a number of subspecies, and its geographical range is from the Cape of South Africa to Algeria, wherever the circumstances are right for it.

It is lightly built, with very large ears and long legs. The back of the ears is black with a big white spot, and the tip of the tail is black. These signs probably serve as signals to other servals.[3]


The serval needs access to water, and dense grassland. Reed beds, scrub or high grass are typical habitats. It is territorial.[3]

Hunting and diet

A serval from the Sabi Sands area of South Africa. Note the large ears adapted for hearing small prey.

The serval is nocturnal, and hunts mostly at night. Although the serval is specialized for catching rodents, it is an opportunistic predator whose diet also includes birds, hares, hyraxes, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs.[4] Over 90% of the serval's prey weighs less than 200 gm (7 oz).[5]

As part of its adaptations for hunting in the savannas, the serval has long legs (the longest of all cats, relative to body size) which help it achieve a top speed of 80 kilometres per hour (50 mph), and has large ears with acute hearing. Its long legs and neck allow the serval to see over tall grasses, while its ears are used to detect prey, even those burrowing underground. Servals have been known to dig into burrows in search of underground prey, and to leap 2 to 3 metres (7 to 10 ft) into the air to grab birds in flight.[6]

It is the highest jumper of all cats relative to its body size. It feeds mostly on rodents, such as mice and rats, although it has been known to catch birds while they are flying in the air. Using its spectacular jumping ability, the serval leaps into the air and bats the bird with its front paws. When the bird is on the ground, it bites its neck, killing it.

Like most cats, the serval is a solitary animal. It travels as much as 3 to 4 kilometres (1.9 to 2.5 mi) each night in search of food. The female defends home ranges of 9.5 to 19.8 square kilometres (3.7 to 7.6 sq mi), depending on local prey availability. The male defends larger territories of 11.6 to 31.5 square kilometres (4.5 to 12.2 sq mi), and marks its territory by spraying urine onto bushes.


  1. Wozencraft, W. C. (2005). "Order Carnivora". In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 540. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0 . OCLC 62265494 .
  2. Breitenmoser C. Henschel P. & Sogbohossou E. (2008). Leptailurus serval. 2008 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2008. Retrieved on 22 March 2009. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Sayer, Angela & Findlay, Michael 1979. The encyclopedia of the cat. London: Chancellor, p30/31. ISBN 1-85152-923-3
  4. "Serval". African Wildlife Foundation. Retrieved 2007-03-13.
  5. "Serval Fact Sheet". San Diego Zoo. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
  6. Sunquist, Mel & Sunquist, Fiona 2002. Wild cats of the World. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 142–151. ISBN 0-226-77999-8