The African serval

The serval has a lithe body, with tawny-coloured fur and bold black or dark brown spots. Across the shoulders, back and upper leg areas, spots can be plentiful – looking somewhat speckled or merging to form stripes. The tail, reaching almost to the cat’s hocks, is ringed and tipped with black. The serval’s head is small when compared to his body size and he has huge, oval-shaped ears. When seen from the back, his ears are black with small white markings. Males are slightly bigger than females. The serval’s body is perfectly designed for hunting – a long neck to see over the tall grass, big ears to catch soft sounds in the veld, and long legs for chasing agile prey. The serval has keen hearing and will often stand quietly for lengthy periods, just listening to the sounds of the savannah before moving on with the hunt.

Pouncing on prey
Servals are mainly nocturnal, but may be seen during the day in places where there is a lot of other predator or human activity after dark. These are solitary cats and they will only meet up during mating. The serval preys on small mammals, reptiles and birds and is a keen rodent catcher. Once the cat locates his prey, mainly by hearing, he’ll take it down with a mighty pounce high into the air, then strike the victim with the forepaws and claws. Prey is eaten close to where it is caught. Because of his sheer speed, he may occasionally kill a small antelope. Servals are swift and agile and may be able to pluck a bird from the air.

Reproduction
Although the serval doesn’t have a defined mating season, most cubs are born in the spring. The female gives birth to one to three cubs between 72 and 77 days after mating. Cubs are helpless at birth but open their eyes at around two weeks. The young will suck from their mother for about five months. During this period she will allow the cubs to leave the den and start simple hunt training. By one year of age they are ready to leave mom for the solitary life of an adult serval.

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