Africa is home to an incredible array of fascinating animals—among them many of the world’s most majestic big cats!
You’ve no doubt heard of lions, cheetahs and leopards, but are you familiar with the slightly smaller African wild cat—the serval?With their small heads, large ears, long necks, long skinny legs, long slender bodies and short tails, Serval cats have an almost patched together appearance. They’re even referred to as “the cat of spare parts.” From a distance, they slightly resemble a cheetah, as they have similar coloring and markings, but servals are smaller. They typically weigh between 13- 18 kilograms (30-40 pounds) and are around 53-56 centimeters (21-22 inches) tall at the shoulder. Here are some other interesting tidbits about this distinctive big cat from Africa:
- The name, serval, is derived from a Portuguese word meaning “wolf-deer”
- Servals have the largest ears of any cat
- They love to climb, leap and play in the water
- A serval standing on its hind legs, can jump 2.7 meters (more than 9 ft.) straight up in the air
- Their hind legs are longer than their front ones
- They were worshipped by the ancient Egyptians
A Formidable Hunter
Despite their patched together appearance, or perhaps because of it, servals are extremely effective hunters. With the aid of their over-sized ears, servals have excellent hearing. They can hear their prey of choice—small mammals, such as rats and mice—rustling through the grasses and pounce accordingly. Servals can launch themselves high in the air with their long slender hind legs and snatch small birds from the air. But their prey isn’t limited to the land or air. Using their curved paws, servals are able to pluck fish and frogs right out of the water. Of course, servals are not the largest animals in the African savannahs, and must be on-guard from their many predators. As with many wild animals in Africa, servals face threats from those larger than themselves, including leopards and spotted hyenas. And not surprisingly, they must also contend with another usual culprit—people. Human encroachment is gobbling up the servals’ habitat, and unsavory poachers have been known to hunt servals for their beautiful skins, which are used for ceremonial and medicinal purposes, and sometimes sold to tourists. Serval meat is also considered a delicacy by some tribes.
Similar to cheetahs and leopards, servals are primarily solitary animals. Both male and female servals maintain their own territories and mark them with their scent. The female serval raises her young on her own. A typical litter is between two to five kittens. The male kittens are kicked out of the den at about six months, but their sisters may stay with the mother until they’re two years old.
Out of the Wild
Unlike some exotic animals, servals are not a rarity in captivity. There are 292 servals in zoos worldwide (130 of them in the U.S.), according to International Species Information Service.There is also a demand from some to have this wild animal as a domesticated pet. Even a cursory internet search brings up dozens of breeders pedaling serval cats as household pets. But if you want to see the beauty of the servals in their natural habitat, you’ll have to book a flight to Africa, as that’s the only place in the world where they’re found in the wild.