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Species Facts

The serval is a tall, lightly built cat. Relative to the rest of its body, it has the longest legs of any cat species, with a comparatively short tail. 

  • Scientific Designation: Leptailurus serval
  • Endangered Status: Least Concern
  • Lifespan: Up to 19 years (captivity)
  • Weight: 9-18 kg
  • Body Length: 67-100 cm
  • Shoulder Height: 40-65 cm
  • Tail Length: 24-45 cm

Appearance

It has a small, slim face dominated by very large, oval-shaped ears. The serval’s coat markings vary in size from fine-freckled dots to large, distinct spots that sometimes merge into stripes on the neck and back. This cat is specialized for height rather than for speed, using its ability to hear and its long legs to capture small rodents in tall grass.

Map shows the African continent. Much of sub-saharan Africa is shaded as being extant, or resident, areas for the serval. Exceptions are the forest regions of the Congo, as well as South Africa. The tip of South Africa is shaded in red, showing that the serval is extinct in that region.

Species Distribution

This species can be found only in Africa, living in almost all types of grassland. The serval’s distribution is closely tied to water and its associated vegetation in the form of grasses, reed beds, and marshes. The serval does not live in desert or semi-desert.

Distribution map courtesy of IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), compiled in 2015.

Behavior

When under attack by potential predators, such as hyenas, the serval reacts by hiding or fleeing. This solitary, nocturnal cat is a specialized small-mammal catcher, catching rodents in tall grass and using its long legs and flexible feet to investigate holes and crevices. The serval also will eat birds, lizards, snakes, frogs, and insects. 

Threats to the Serval

In the wild, the serval species has declined. Threats include hunting by humans, habitat degradation and loss, and loss of wetlands.

This species is classified as Least Concern (LC) by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and listed in appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

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