Serval (Leptailurus serval)
Leptailurus serval in Serengenti, Tanzania
By Self (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

The Serval cat (Leptailurus serval) is a medium sized, spotted African wild cat, often confused with leopards and cheetahs due to their similar coat patterns and coloring. With its long legs and large ears the Serval is well adapted to hunt small rodents in grassland and wetlands; habitats which are under increasing threats due to loss and degradation. The Serval cat is well known in America as one of the exotic felines bred for the pet market.

Caracal Lineage

1. Caracal (Caracal caracal)

2. Serval (Leptailurus serval)

3. African Golden Cat (Caracal aurata)

Key Facts about Servals

~ Longest legs of all wild cats ~

~ Largest ears of all wild cats ~

~ Endemic to Africa ~

Serval (Leptailurus serval) Classification

Serval cats are classed in their own genus Leptailurus and the full taxonomy or scientific classification of the Serval species is:

Kingdom: Animalia (animals)

Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)

Class: Mammalia (mammals)

Order: Carnivora (carnivores)

Suborder: Feliformia (cat-like)

Family: Felidae (cats)

Subfamily: Felinae (small cats)

Genus: Leptailurus

Species: Leptailurus serval (Serval)

Subspecies:

L.s. serval

L.s. constantia

L.s. lipostictus

 

The scientific name for the Serval cat is Leptailurus serval which is also known as the binomial name, species name, latin name, biological name or zoological name. Some use the term 'botanical name' however that term is only applicable to the plant kingdom (botany) and not the animal kingdom (zoology).

African Serval Cat Classification Diagram
Click on the chart to download.
Permission to use for personal or educational use. Credit: www.wildcatfamily.com

 

Serval stalking prey in long grass by Richard Packwood

Serval (Leptailurus serval) Subspecies

Historically up to eighteen subspecies of Serval have been described, however the last Felidae taxonomic revision in 2017 proposed only three subspecies, pending further research:

1. Leptailurus serval serval - Southern Africa

2. Leptailurus serval constantina - West and Central Africa

3. Leptailurus serval lipostictus - East Africa

African Serval Cat Conservation

The Serval conservation status is Least Concern (LC) globally as the cat is widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa. However it is listed as Critically Endangered (CR) for the Mediterranean region due to regional extinctions in North Africa.

The following organizations are involved in wildlife conservation in Africa, and their efforts in securing wild habitat will help ensure the Serval cat's continued existence:

African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) - Serval

African Parks - Saving Wildlife

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Africa - Wildlife

Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) - Carnivore Conservation

Please support these organizations with their important work if you can. No matter the size of your contribution, every bit helps!

Eight week old Serval kittens by Terry Whittaker

Young Serval cats playing together by M&D Denis-Huot

Serval Facts and Information

The following organizations have well researched and authoritative information on Serval cats:

Serval (Leptailurus serval) Research

Here are some papers published on Serval cats. Click on the title bar to view the abstract and the link to the article.

Understanding activity and habitat use are important for identifying mechanisms facilitating species co-occurrence.

We studied habitat use and activity patterns of caracals (Caracal caracal) and servals (Leptailurus serval), primarily nocturnal, midsized felids that prey extensively on small mammals and co-occur in portions of sub- Saharan Africa.

Spatial and temporal patterns of segregation were investigated in a 1,085-km² area of Serengeti National Park, Tanzania from 2010-2012. We used occupancy analysis to quantify habitat use and kernel density estimators and Mardia-Watson-Wheleer tests to analyse activity patterns.

We found evidence for habitat divergence but high temporal overlap between species. Servals selected for grassland and avoided shrubland and wooded grassland. In contrast, the findings showed that caracals avoided grassland and woodland-shrubland; however, 73% of caracals were detected in wooded grassland. Overall, caracals and servals co-occurred independently, Species Interaction Factor, (phi = 1).

This indicates that differential use of habitats in part facilitated coexistence of caracals and servals.

Proper management of the declining grasslands including other habitats are recommended to facilitate continued coexistence. Additional studies, including feeding ecology, would be important to further understand mechanisms facilitating coexistence between caracals and servals.

Mwampeta, S.; Magige, F.J.; Belant, J.L.
Spatial and temporal overlap of caracal and serval in Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
2020 African Journal of Ecology (58): 361-370

Population density is a fundamental parameter needed to assess wildlife populations but is difficult to obtain given species are often wide-ranging and elusive. Photographic capture-recapture techniques do not require direct observations and thus, have become a common approach for estimating wildlife densities. To date, however, these studies have typically focused on single species. Our research explores study design- and analytical- based approaches for expanding photographic capture-recapture studies to assess multiple species simultaneously.

We developed a hybrid-sampling scheme that varied inter-camera distances and used simulations to test the efficacy of this design versus a systematically spaced grid in estimating densities of species with varied space use. Through simulations we found the hybrid design facilitated density estimates for a wider range of species with little or no cost in accuracy for most species.

We implemented a hybrid camera design across a 1154-km² area in northern Botswana to estimate densities of lions, spotted hyenas, leopards, wild dogs, servals, civets, and aardwolves. We estimated densities of these small- to wide-ranging carnivores, where all or some portion of the population was individually identifiable, using spatially explicit capture-recapture and markresight models.

Mean estimates ranged from 1.2 (95% CI=0.72-1.99) lions to 10.1 (95% CI=8.69-11.63) spotted hyenas/100 km² and provided empirical information needed for the conservation of these species in Botswana.

Our research demonstrates how photographic capture-recapture studies can be expanded to estimate the densities of multiple species versus just a single species within a community, thus increasing the conservation value of this globally implemented approach.

Rich, L.N.; Miller, D.A.W.; Munoz, D.J.; Robinson, H.S.; McNutt, J.W.; Kelly, M.J.
Sampling design and analytical advances allow for simultaneous density estimation of seven sympatric carnivore species from camera trap data
2019  Biological Conservation (233): 12-20

Servals (Leptailurus serval) have a widespread distribution across sub-Saharan Africa with two large gaps: one in the tropical forest block of central Africa and one in the arid western block of southern Africa.

We present new camera trap records of servals that fall within a large portion of the latter gap, including records from Khutse Game Reserve and Ghanzi that are more than 100 km outside the known range of the serval and may suggest a Kalahari-wide distribution.

Finerty, G.E.; Bahaa-el-din, L.; Henley, S.; Kesch, M.K.; Seymour-Smith, J.; van der Weyde, L.K.; MacDonald, D.W.; Loveridge, A.J.
Range expansion: Servals spotted in the Kalahari
2019  Cat News (69): 9-11

Despite its wide distribution in continental Africa, the serval (Leptailurus serval Schreber) has received relatively little scientific attention so far.

We did camera-trapping in the forest-savannah mosaic of the Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Republic of Congo. The park's savannahs represent the northernmost extension of the savannahs of the Batéké Plateaux, a large ecoregion of open habitat in Central Africa.

During 8 months of camera-trapping, we recorded 51 individuals. Almost two-thirds of individuals recorded belonged to the servaline morph, with a pattern mutation of small "freckled" spots. Using maximum likelihood (ML) and Bayesian spatially explicit capture-recapture methods serval density was 7.7-9.8 individuals/ 100 km². ML analyses favoured a model with trap placement and gender as covariates.

Serval males were largely nocturnal whereas females were mainly diurnal. Differences in activity patterns were likely related to the occurrence of spotted hyaenas (Crocuta crocuta Erxleben). Spotted hyaenas were highly nocturnal and, consequently, had a higher overlap in activity patterns with male servals.

Our study provided the first robust density estimates for this medium-sized carnivore in Central Africa. To achieve sufficient precision in density estimates, we recommend that future studies also include individual and trap placement covariates in analyses.

Bohm, T.; Hofer, H.
Population numbers, density and activity patterns of servals in savannah patches of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, Republic of Congo
2018  African Journal of Ecology (56): 841-849

Despite its IUCN Red List status as "least concern," relatively few studies have been conducted on serval (Leptailurus serval).

Within Namibia, serval are detected infrequently, even during prolonged camera trapping surveys, which has been suggested as indicative of low density. Such populations are vulnerable to habitat loss and degradation; therefore, quantifying serval population density and distribution within Namibia is an important first step in establishing conservation needs.

We present the first density estimates of serval for Namibia, from Khaudum National Park and the Mudumu North Complex (MNC). Using Bayesian spatial capture-recapture models, density was estimated at 1.28 serval/100 km² (± 0.23, 0.82-1.56) for Khaudum and 0.63 serval/100 km² (± 0.51, 0.38-0.90) for the MNC; the lowest serval densities published to date.

Photographic records from the two surveys, along with an additional 10 records from MNC captured outside of the survey period and two new records from north-central Namibia were used to update the Namibian distribution map. This resulted in the highest probability of occurrence along the north-eastern borders.

Such results imply Namibia hosts a low-density, geographically limited population, potentially vulnerable to habitat fragmentation and other environmental impacts, and therefore requires careful management to ensure its persistence.

Edwards, S.; Portas, R.; Hanssen, L.; Beytell, P.; Melzheimer, J.; Stratford, K.
The spotted ghost: Density and distribution of serval (Leptailurus serval) in Namibia
2018  African Journal of Ecology (56): 831-840

View more articles on Leptailurus serval in the IUCN Cat Specialist Group database (scroll down once the library page is loaded to see the list).

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