It’s not every day you catch a glimpse of the stealthy serval. How much do you know about one of the bush’s smaller cats? These interesting facts about servals will give you greater appreciation for this elegant, long-legged hunter. By Gaynor Siljeur

Hide and seek in the bush

The colour of the serval’s coat varies from white (on the belly) to gold with distinct black bands and spots all over. But the pattern is not just a pretty design. The dots and dashes on the coat break up the outline of the cat’s body, helping it to blend into the surroundings. Since many animals have only black-and-white vision and rely on movement and shape, the serval can be difficult to spot for both prey and other predators.

Picture by Ilse van den Berg

Sharp hearing

My, what big ears you have! The serval’s large, rounded ears dwarf its pretty face, but give it an acute sense of hearing. As servals hunt most often in grasslands and areas with reed beds, they rely on sound to help them pin-point the location of their next meal. This medium-sized cat eats a variety of prey including birds, reptiles, insects and small mammals such as vlei rats, hares and cane rats. Even the quietest rodent won’t easily go unnoticed in their presence.

KrugerServal5-DavidCourtneyMarneweck-Aug2013

Picture by David and Courtney Marneweck

Also read: Don’t mess with this serval!

Legs that go all the way up

These hunters have the longest legs of all cats, relative to their size. Their slender, long legs provide valuable height to see over the bush’s long grass so they can look for prey or scan for potential danger lurking in the area. The spotted cat’s powerful legs also enable them to jump into trees and catch birds in flight.

Picture by Ilse van den Berg

Unique hunting techniques

This lone wanderer has a hunting style like no other. In order to catch their fast-moving meals, serval use their long legs to pounce in a high, curving leap that carries them over the grass and onto their prey with enough force to stun or kill it. This technique is very efficient with 40- 60% of pounces being successful. In fact, servals are among the most successful hunters in the bush (compare to lions where approximately 25-30% of attempts are successful). Other capture strategies include scooping prey into the mouth with one paw or slapping it downwards with a forepaw.

Picture by Gillian Soames

Marking territory

Spraying urine is not the only way this cat marks its territory. Both males and females spread their saliva – and specific scent – by rubbing their faces on the soil and grass.

Picture by David and Courtney Marneweck

Also read: Which are SA’s most elusive sightings? Meet the Secret Seven

Sources:

MAMMALS OF SOUTHERN AFRICA, A FIELD GUIDE.2012. STRUIK NATURE
BEAT ABOUT THE BUSH, MAMMALS AND BIRDS.2013. JACANA.
A FIELD GUIDE TO TRACK AND SIGNS OF SOUTHERN, CENTRAL AND EAST AFRICA WILDLIFE. 2013. STRUIK NATURE.
WILD WAYS, FIELD COMPANION TO THE BEHAVIOUR OF SOUTHERN AFRICAN MAMMALS. 2014. STRUIK PUBLISHERS