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Serval

ServalAlthough the Serval is considerably smaller in size than the Cheetah, it has similar proportions to the Cheetah and is easily mistaken for its larger relative when seen briefly or from a distance. Like the Cheetah, the Serval has long limbs but these are not used for speed - they allow the cat to leap nimbly and provide a vantage point to see above the vegetation. This long-legged cat has a small head and comparatively large ears (broad at the base with rounded tips) and a relatively shortish tail banded with black. It is marked with dark spots and blotches on a tawny background, which become elongated on the back to form stripes.

Zoological name: Felis serval

Species: Wozencraft (1993) in the latest review of cat taxonomy has placed the serval (usually considered to be in the genus Felis) in the genus Leptailurus
There are 14 recognised subspecies:
- F. (L.) s. serval (Cape Province)
- F. (L.) s. beirae (Mozambique)
- F. (L.) s. brachyura Servaline cat: (Sierra Leone to Ethiopia)
- F. (L.) s. constantina (Algeria-Atlas)
- F. (L.) s. hamiltoni (East Transvaal)
- F. (L.) s. hindeio (Tanzania)
- F. (L.) s. ingridi (South Zimbabwe, Botswana, southwest Africa)
- F. (L.) s. kempi (Uganda)
- F. (L.) s. kivuensis (Congo and Angola)
- F. (L.) s. liposticta (North Angola)
- F. (L.) s. lonnbergi (South west Angola)
- F. (L.) s. mababiensis (North Botswana)
- F. (L.) s. robertsi (West Transvaal)
- F. (L.) s. togoensis (Dahomey and Togo)
The subspecies of many animals are often of doubtful validity. Populations show considerable variation, and many classifications were allocated before the current rigorous systematic techniques were developed.
Serval
Presence on the planet: The serval inhabits the plains and forests of the north African countries of Algeria and Morocco, and in central and southern Africa, excluding the southern-most tip and the rainforest belt in central Africa.

Habitat: Servals are found in well-watered savannah long-grass environments, and are associated with reed beds and other riparian vegetation types. They occupy a variety of habitats all associated with water sources, they range up into alpine grasslands and can penetrate deep dense forests along waterways and through grassy patches, but are absent from rain forests. They will make use of arid areas in extreme instances, and have occasionally done so in parts of south-western Africa.

Physical appearance: Often referred to as the cat of spare parts, this unusual, but beautiful cat is among the feline familys most successful. It has a small, delicate head and extremely large ears set on an elongated neck, long slim legs (hind legs longer than front), long slender body and a short tail. The ears are black on the back with a distinctive white spot, and the tail has 6 or 7 black rings and a black tip. The coat color is pale yellow with black markings, either of large spots that tend to merge into longitudinal stripes on the neck and back, or of numerous small spots, which give a speckled appearance. These "speckled" Servals from west Africa called servalines used to be considered a separate species Felis brachyura, until it was demonstrated that the speckled pattern was just a variation or "morph".


Serval Diet:Much like the big bad wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood" the Servals big ears are "the better to hear you with!" Unequalled in the cat world, the serval?s hearing allows it to locate (echo-location) small mammals moving through the grass or underground, and to hunt its prey without seeing it until the final pounce. It also has the ability to leap vertically and catch prey such as birds, right out of the air. They do this by "clapping" with their front paws together and striking with a downward blow. Primary prey items for the Serval includes rodents, birds, reptiles, fish, frogs and insects. Servals have a hunting success rate of 50%.

Reproduction & Offspring: Female servals display very overt oestrus behaviour over four days. One to three, or even as many as five, kittens are born after a gestation period of 66 to 77 days. Weighing 260 grammes at birth, their eyes are fully open by nine days. By four weeks the kittens have their first solids and are weaned in four to seven months. Full adult dentition may be present in 190 days. The mother will give birth and rear her offspring in a den in dense vegetation or in an abandoned burrow. When the young servals are one year old they will leave their natal range.

Conservation status: The serval is reasonably widespread and relatively common throughout Africa. It also breeds well in captivity. The IUCN Red List has the North African serval (F. (L.) s. constantinus) as Endangered but all other servals as Least Concern.In the Cape region of southern Africa servals were historically restricted to the coastal belt, and inland to east of 24° East Longitude. This is where most of the human pressure is concentrated. They are now extinct in the Cape Province of South Africa. Natural repopulation seems unlikely, so reintroduction is the only option. Caracals seem to have been able to adapt to the habitat degradation better than the servals (Serval Extinct in Cape Province of South Africa.

Life span: 20 years
Save Serval !!
A serious threat to servals and other small wild cats is the fur trade, which continues to demand large numbers of the beautifully marked skins. To make of a coat from small wild cats, it requires a very large number of skins because of the intricate process of matching spots, stripes and bars.

Servals have shown up in the pet trade which is a bad idea. While cute, cuddly and still a novelty to the owner when they are young kittens, they become destructive, difficult to handle and potentially dangerous before they are full grown. This leads to neglect, abandonment and sometimes death of the cat. Keeping any wild animal as a pet is bad idea.

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