This is another one of my favorites, everyone!
The Serval (Leptailurus serval) is a medium-sized felid that can be found throughout Africa south of the Sahara. Their historical range was much bigger, as they used to be found in Morocco and Algeria, but they are believed to be extirpated from those areas. It was once extirpated from Tunisia, but a reintroduction program is currently in progress, an attempt to restore a wild population there. They are most closely related to the Caracal and the African Golden Cat.
Servals can grow up to 36 inches (92 cm) in body length, with a proportionally-short 17-inch (45 cm) tail. They are also tall - they are the tallest wild cats relative to body size, and can measure 26 inches (66 cm) at the shoulder. Males are larger than females, and can weigh up to 40 pounds (18 Kg). The fur patterns of the Serval varies, although many sport the tawny, spotted coats pictured here.
Melanistic Servals are not uncommon, but they are not as numerous as the tawny coats. White Servals have never been observed in the wild - only in captivity.
There are currently nineteen recognized subspecies of Serval:
- Leptailurus serval serval (Cape Province)
- Leptailurus serval beirae (Mozambique)
- Leptailurus serval brachyurus (Sahel to Ethiopia)
- Leptailurus serval constantinus (Tunisia, formerly Morocco and Algeria)
- Leptailurus serval faradijus
- 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 tanae (Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea)
- Leptailurus serval togoensis (Togo and Benin)
Servals are nocturnal, which means that they are most active at night. This means that they do most of their hunting at night as well, unless they are forced to avoid human activity or other larger nocturnal predators. It's an opportunistic hunter, and its long, strong legs make it an excellent jumper. They are able to snatch birds out of the air, and can leap vertical distances of 10 feet (3 meters). Servals can also leap horizontal distances of 12 feet (3.6 meters). They take mostly small prey like rodents, hares, hyraxes, frogs, reptiles and fish, depending on what's available in their specific range.
Female Servals are capable of giving birth to multiple litters in a year, but will only come into season if her first litter does not survive. After a gestation period of 77 days, they will give birth to a litter of one to four kittens, although the most common litter size is two. Expectant mothers will find a dense thicket or abandoned burrow to have their kittens, to offer some protection during the most vulnerable time in their lives. Serval kittens are able to start hunting for themselves at around six months, but will stay with their mother for their entire first year before leaving her to find territory of their own.
As mentioned, the Serval is vulnerable to larger predators such as Leopards and Lions, but it is also hunted for its fur, and human development shrinks the size of available territory every year.