Servals: Will the great hunter survive being hunted?
The serval is a medium-sized wild cat found in much of Africa. Servals have a hunting success rate of 48%, higher than other members of the cat family. They in turn are hunted by humans for their pelts. Their population is also under threat from habitat loss.
How Nikela Helps
Although Nikela does not have a project that directly protects Servals, many awareness campaigns address the plight of Africa’s endangered and threatened wildlife species as a whole. Actually Nikela is for preserving all wild things and their wild places.
Facts about the Serval
The Serval is a mammal in order Carnivora and family Felidae. Its scientific name is Leptailurus serval.
Servals are widely distributed in sub-Saharan Africa and rare in northern Africa. They are found in well-watered savanna and are typically associated with riparian habitats such as reed beds. They are not found in deserts or Central African rainforests.
The serval is sometimes called “the cat of spare parts” because of its unusual appearance: it has extremely long legs, huge ears, and both spots and stripes. Apart from its spots and stripes which are black (with some white spots on the ears), its fur is tawny. Servals are slender and tall and ~60cm in length from shoulder to tail. Females weigh 9-13kg and males 9-18kg.
Servals hunt primarily small mammals such as rats, mice and shrews. They also hunt birds and very infrequently insects, frogs and lizards.
Servals are solitary animals. The male’s territory overlaps the territories of several females to facilitate reproduction.
Servals are crepuscular, meaning they are most active at dawn and dusk and hunt during these times of day. They rest at mid-day and sometimes at night.
The huge ears of the serval help it pinpoint the location of prey. Their very long legs make servals excellent jumpers. They can pounce a distance of 4m and have been recorded jumping 1.5m to catch birds.
Conservation Status and Threats
The serval has an IUCN conservation status of “Least Concern” because it is relatively widespread through sub-Saharan Africa. In northern Africa, however, the serval meets the IUCN Red List criteria for Endangered. It is rare in the Sahel, the transition zone between the Sahara Desert and the savanna to the south.
Habitat loss and degradation of both wetlands and grasslands constitutes the serval’s greatest threat. It is also hunted for its pelt, which is used in some parts of Africa for ceremonial purposes as in traditional medicine. While they do not typically prey on livestock, they are sometimes killed for taking poultry or killed indiscriminately as part of predator control.
Servals are also taken for the exotic pet trade. The “savannah cat” is a serval-domestic cat hybrid.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Pat Massard