The Serval (Leptailurus serval) is a slender, medium-sized wild cat found in southern Africa, similar to a cheetah but much smaller. The Serval can grow to 54–62 centimetres (21–24 inches) tall.

The Serval has golden-yellow fur that has black spots and black stripes. It has a small head, large ears, elongated toes, and a short 30 centimetre (12 inch) long black-tipped tail. It has brown or green eyes, white whiskers, white chin, and white under-belly. Three to four black stripes run from the back of the head onto the shoulders, which become rows of spots.

The Serval has the longest legs of any cat, in comparison with its body size. This may be to allow the Serval cat to walk above muddy ground. Like a domestic cat, it is very flexible and can change direction in mid-air as it leaps.

Active in the day as well as at night, Servals tend to be shy and solitary with minimal social interaction. They like dry grass close to water.

Serval (cat)

a Serval cat – notice its long legs and long feet

Servals are carnivores. They eat rodents, small birds, frogs, and reptiles. It has excellent hearing. When it finds its prey, it leaps on it to stun it, and bites it on the neck or head. It can leap up to two metres (6.5 feet) high.

The Serval will hide in long grass and sometimes climb a small tree to escape predators such as hyenas and wild dogs.

Serval (cat)


Serval cats can purr, chirp, hiss, cackle, growl, grunt, and meow.

Females are pregnant for 2-3 months, before giving birth to a litter of one to four live young called kittens. Weaning occurs at one month, and kittens begin hunting on their own when they are six months old. Juveniles leave their mother when they are a year old.

Serval cats live to about 10 years in the wild, and up to 20 years in captivity.

Serval (cat)

Serval with four black back stripes that become spots

Serval (cat)


Serval (cat)

Serval – note the large ears



Photographer: Martina Nicolls


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