AskDefine | Define serval

Dictionary Definition

serval n : slender long-legged African wildcat having large untufted ears and tawny black-spotted coat [syn: Felis serval]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • a UK: /ˈsɜːvəl/, /"s3:v@l/
  • a US: , /ˈsɝvəl/, /"s3`v@l/
    Rhymes with: -ɜː(r)vəl


  1. A medium-sized African wild cat. Scientific name: Leptailurus serval or Felis serval.

Extensive Definition

The Serval (, Leptailurus serval) is a medium-sized African wild cat. It is closely related to the African Golden Cat and the Caracal. The length is 85 cm (34 in), plus 40 cm (16 in) of tail, and the shoulder height is about 53 cm (21 in). Weight can range from 9 to 20 kg (20-44 lbs). Life expectancy is about 12-20 years. It is a slender animal, with long legs and a fairly short tail. The tall, oval ears are set close together. The pattern of the fur is variable. Usually, the Serval is boldly spotted black on tawny. The "servaline" form has much smaller, freckled spots. In addition, melanism is known to exist in this species, giving a similar appearance to the black panther. White servals are white with silvery grey spots and have only occurred in captivity.
Its main habitat is the savanna, although melanistic individuals are more usually found in mountainous areas. The Serval needs watercourses within its territory, so it does not live in semi-deserts or dry steppes. It is able to climb and swim, but seldom does so. It has now dwindled in numbers due to human population taking over its habitat and also hunting its pelt. It is protected in most countries. The Serval is listed in CITES Appendix 2, indicating that it is "not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled."


  • Leptailurus serval serval, Cape Province
  • Leptailurus serval beirae, Mozambique
  • Leptailurus serval brachyurus, West Africa, Sahel and Ethiopia
  • Leptailurus serval constantinus, Algeria (endangered)
  • Leptailurus serval faradjius
  • Leptailurus serval ferrarii
  • Leptailurus serval hamiltoni, eastern Transvaal
  • Leptailurus serval hindei, Tanzania
  • Leptailurus serval kempi, Uganda
  • Leptailurus serval kivuensis, Congo
  • Leptailurus serval lipostictus, northern Angola
  • Leptailurus serval lonnbergi, southern Angola
  • Leptailurus serval mababiensis, northern Botswana
  • Leptailurus serval pantastictus
  • Leptailurus serval phillipsi
  • Leptailurus serval pococki
  • Leptailurus serval robertsi, western Transvaal
  • Leptailurus serval togoensis, Togo and Benin

Adaptation and breeding

Although the Serval is highly specialised for catching rodents, it is an opportunistic predator whose diet also includes hares, hyraxes, birds, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs. The Serval has been observed taking larger animals, such as small antelopes, but over 90% of the Serval's prey weighs less than 200g (7 oz). The Serval eats very quickly, and if its food is big enough, it sometimes eats too quickly, causing it to regurgitate the food because of clogging in the throat.
As part of its adaptations for hunting in the savannas, the Serval boasts long legs (the longest of all cats, relative to body size) and large ears. The long legs and neck allow the Serval to see over tall grasses, while its ears are used to detect rodents, even those burrowing underground. While hunting, the Serval will pause for up to 15 minutes at a time to listen with eyes closed. The Serval's pounce is a distinctive vertical 'hop', which may be an adaptation for catching flushed birds. The Serval is a highly efficient hunter, catching prey on as many as 50% of attempts, compared to around one of ten for most species of cat. The Serval has been known to dig into burrows in search of prey.
The gestation period for a female Serval is 66-77 days, almost three months. The litter consists of two or three young (called kittens), sometimes as few as one or as many as five. They are raised in sheltered locations such as abandoned aardvark burrows. If such an ideal location is not available, a place behind a shrub may be sufficient. The Serval is sometimes preyed upon by the Leopard and other large cats. More dangerous for this cat are humans. The Serval was extensively hunted for its fur. It is still common in West and East Africa, but it is extinct in the South African Cape Province and very rare north of the Sahara.

Color phases

Melanistic Servals have been reported both in wild populations and in captivity. White Servals have never been documented in the wild and only four have been documented in captivity. One was born and died at the age of 2 weeks in Canada in the early 1990's. The other three, all males, Kongo (deceased) Tongo and Pharaoh were born at Wildlife on Easy Street in 1997 and 1999.


The Serval has been bred with the domestic cat to create a hybrid breed of domestic cat called the Savannah.

Heraldry and literature

The Serval in it gattopardo was the symbol of the Tomasi family, princes of Lampedusa, whose best-known member was Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, author one of the most famous Italian novels of the 20th century, Il Gattopardo.


External links

serval in Afrikaans: Tierboskat
serval in Arabic: بج
serval in Breton: Serval
serval in Bulgarian: Сервал
serval in Cebuano: Serval
serval in Czech: Serval
serval in Danish: Serval
serval in German: Serval
serval in Spanish: Leptailurus serval
serval in Esperanto: Servalo
serval in French: Serval
serval in Ido: Servalo
serval in Italian: Leptailurus serval
serval in Hebrew: סרוואל
serval in Latin: Leptailurus
serval in Lithuanian: Servalas
serval in Hungarian: Szervál
serval in Dutch: Serval (katachtige)
serval in Japanese: サーバル
serval in Norwegian: Serval
serval in Polish: Serwal
serval in Portuguese: Serval
serval in Russian: Сервал
serval in Finnish: Servaali
serval in Swedish: Serval
serval in Turkish: Serval
serval in Chinese: 藪貓
serval in Georgian: სერვალი
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1