serval

Serval

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Leptailurus serval

CONSERVATION STATUS

According to the IUCN, the Serval is classified into the category of least concern as their population numbers in many areas are stable. For this reason they are not likely to become extinct in their natural environment in the near future. They have, however, been declared critically endangered in the north, where only a small number of populations still occur.

POPULATION AND DISTRIBUTION: Serval distribution ranges from dry open grasslands to thicker and more humid types of woodland. They occur in all types of African savanna where grass grows, usually near water.

CHARACTERISTICS

DESCRIPTION: The serval is a lean animal with long legs, short tail, a small head and large oval shaped ears. They are the tallest of Africa’s small cats. Body colour and fur pattern vary from dull white to pale yellow with black stripes down the neck and solid black spots. The tail is spotted from the base, integrating into black rings and ending in a black tip. Their undersides are white with dark spots. There are two black stripes on white areas behind the ears. Due to these characteristics, the serval may be confused with a young cheetah, but they have larger ears and lack the characteristic tear marks of the cheetah. Melanism, which is an increased black pigmentation, is known to occur in this species.

COMMUNICATION: High-pitched calls.

SOCIAL STRUCTURE: Servals are solitary (but pairs can be seen hunting together) and territorial. It has been shown that they often have overlapping home ranges, but usually avoid meeting one another. They are able to run very fast over short distances and can be good tree climbers. They are predominantly nocturnal but can also be seen early in the morning and late in the afternoon  as they are crepuscular animals.

MALE: Looks similar to females, but are larger in size.

FEMALE: Have a smaller build than males.

YOUNG: Have the same characteristics as their parents.

REPRODUCTION: Servals have a gestation period of around 2 months after which about 1 to 4 young are born. There is no set breeding season for servals, but more mating occurs in spring when the females find and court males for a few days. Once they have mated, the females establish a den in dense vegetation where they give birth. The young are born blind and weigh about 250 gm (0,5 pounds), but their eyes open and they get bigger within the first two weeks after being born. The young suckle until they are weaned at about 5 months, when they learn to hunt by accompanying the mother when she goes hunting. They tend to stay with the mother for at least a year. Once they are independent, the young will find their own territory. Servals live for an average of about 10 to 12 years in the wild.

HABITAT: Today the serval is confined to areas south of the Sahara, with only a few being found in the north. They have a wide range through central and southern parts of Africa. They are most commonly found in reed beds and grasslands that have adequate food and water supply. They are however also able to adapt well to a range of other habitats such as forest, thickets and along streams, as long as there is a sufficient supply of food and water.

TRACKS AND SIGNS: The serval has narrower footprints than the caracal, with the indentation at the front of the intermediate pad not being as prominent. They have digitigrade foot posture, where the heel and instep are raised so that only the digits touch the ground.

HUNTING TECHNIQUE: Servals eat a variety of prey but their diet consists mainly of small rodents (such as rats and mice), so they play an important role in the ecosystem in maintaining rodent population numbers. They use their ears to detect prey underground (through vibrations) and then dig them out using their claws. They are also able to jump more than 1 m into the air.

THREATS: The serval has no common natural predators within their native environments, but leopards and hyenas pose the biggest threat to them (predation as well as competition for resources). Their biggest threat is that they are killed by people for their fur. They are also at risk of being killed by farmers protecting their livestock and suffer due to habitat loss in various areas across their native range.

THE ROLE HESC PLAYS IN THE CONSERVATION OF THESE SPECIES:  HESC aims to conserve this species by educating the public about its existence, as well as manners in which to protect them from becoming extinct in the wild. The loss of their unique wetland habitat is becoming an increasing concern to conservationists in the country. HESC aims to reintroduce captive bred servals to stabilise declining population numbers.

References

A-Z Animals. 2016. Serval. Accessed on 03/02/2016 from: http://a-z-animals.com/animals/serval

Cillié, B. 1997. The mammal guide of Southern Africa, pg. 118- 119. Briza Publications. Pretoria.

Estes, R.D. 1991. The behavior guide to African mammals, pg. 361- 363. The University of California Press. London.

Hine, G. & Hine, G. 2006. Level 1 Learner Manual, pg. 162- 168. Interactive Wildlife Company.

Liebenberg, L. 1990. A field guide to the animal tracks of Southern Africa. David Phillip Publishers. Cape Town & Johannesburg.