• SCIENTIFIC NAME: Leptailurus serval


The serval is one of the most successful hunters on the savanna. This cat can rotate its large ears to pinpoint the location of a sound, and its long legs help the serval bat down birds or pounce and leap on other prey. Black stripes that break into elongated spots along its tawny back help the serval blend with its environment, and its long neck lets this medium-size cat see over tall grass.





Daily Rhythm




Life span

In captivity: 22 years

Conservation Status

Lower risk


Male: 17 to 30 lb (7.9 to 13.5 kg)
Female: 13 to 26 lb (6.0 to 11.8 kg)


Male: 2.4 to 2.8 ft (6.1 to 7.1 cm) long, excluding tail
Female: 2.3 to 2.9 ft (5.8 to 7.4 cm) long, excluding tail


Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Wider than they are long; no claws; similar to a caracal's
Scat: Often contains a lot of fur

Serval tracks

Trivia Question

How many kills do servals make each day?


In one 24-hour period, servals make 15 to 16 kills on average! Researchers in Serengeti National Park, in Tanzania, observed that in one year a serval eats about 4,000 rodents, 260 snakes, and 130 birds.

Social Structure

Both male and female servals live alone, though a male may accompany a female for a few days when they are mating. Serval home ranges vary in size, but a male’s tends to be larger than a female’s. Ranges overlap, but servals avoid other individuals and don’t fight often. Only the ranges of female offspring are allowed to overlap with their mother’s home range; male offspring are pushed away by their mother and the dominant male.


Servals have highly developed hearing to help them detect prey, and they communicate using a variety of sounds, including purrs, a high-pitched meow, a nasal mwa-mwa repeated multiple times, and a low, purring growl. They greet one another with a friendly, quiet mew. To mark their ranges, servals urinate along paths and rub their faces on the ground while drooling.


Servals are crepuscular, meaning they are most active during twilight and dawn hours. When they have kittens or are in protected areas, they adopt a more diurnal lifestyle. They spend most of their time on the ground, but will climb trees to heights of up to 30 feet (9 m). During bright, daylight hours, servals will rest under cover, rarely visiting the same resting site twice.


Habitat degradation and decreasing numbers of small prey mammals threaten serval populations. In Nigeria,servals are used in traditional medicine, while in Senegal, Gambia, and Benin, their skins are traded heavily. However, servals remain abundant across their distribution in protected areas.

Range & Habitat

Although there are pockets of servals in northern Africa, most live south of the Sahara from Senegal to Ethiopia and Somalia, and from Angola to southeastern Africa. None live in the rain forests of West Africa or the Congo.

Tall grass, reed beds, and heavy underbrush along with a permanent water source create ideal habitats for servals. They are most common in savanna grassland and dry forest, though they also favor alpine habitats, moorland, and high altitude bamboo forest. These cats also live in areas with dense human populations.


Rodents and birds make up most of a serval’s diet. These cats are sophisticated hunters, following known paths to listen for potential prey. Their curved claws are adapted to pinning down rodents.


The peak birthing season correlates with periods of high rodent density, which happens during periods of high rainfall. Gestation lasts 65 to 75 days. Females bear one to five kittens in hidden areas, such as in dense vegetation, tree hollows, or rocks. At birth, kittens weigh nine ounces (250 g) and are blind. They open their eyes between seven and ten days and begin eating solid food at two to three weeks. At six to eight months, the kittens are independent but remain in their mother’s range until they are a year old. Young adults take several months to establish their own home ranges, testing out a few different areas before settling on one.

Friends & Foes

Although servals are slender and medium-sized, their courage and aggression creates a presence that helps deter potential predators. Even though spotted hyenas are notably larger than these cats, adult servals are not afraid to confront them. Servals benefit humans by reducing rodent populations.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Serval populations are most abundant in protected areas in East and southern Africa. Where food and adequate cover are available, servals will venture into agricultural areas.


Did you know?

Servals flush birds and insects with a series of leaps as high as 7 feet (2 m) and can even change direction in mid-air.