Tuesday 30 September 2008

Serval cats


Although this page is primarily about wild Serval cats I have built a page on the domestic aspects of this cat – Serval and the second half of this page addresses domestic cat companion matters in relation to this cat. They are quite frequently domesticated and what better way to show this than a picture of Kathrin Stucki of A1 Savannahs with a tame Serval boy (above). This cat is very much like a domestic cat but not quite like a domestic cat; there is that edge of the wild in him.

Here he is in a video:

Here is a picture of the Serval in the wild:



This is a medium sized wildcat whose main habitat is the savanna in Africa. The cats size can be seen very clearly in the heading picture of Kathrin Stucki. Notable features of this cat are its rangy conformation, long legs, large ears, small head relative to body size and strongly spotted coat. Its body is designed to hear particularly accurately, jump athletically and run fast (up to 50 mph – the domestic cat has a top speed of about 30 mph).
In comparison with the domestic cat this cat weighs in the range 20 (female) to 57 lbs (male), the lower end of this scale being the top end of domestic cat weights (see Largest Domestic Cat Breed).

Here are a couple of videos by me:

The classic markings are black tabby spots on a well ticked yellow/tawny ground but it can be melanistic (black) and white.

The scientific name is Leptailurus serval. The Serval is closely related to the African Golden Cat and Caracal.

IUCN Assessment as to survival in the wild

Assessment is on two levels, it seems. South of the Sahara desert they are classified as "Least Concern” – the species has been evaluated but does not qualify for any other category:


Serval cats are “relatively abundant” in this area, hence the classification.
North of the Sahara in Morocco, northern Algeria and Tunisia they are assessed as “regionally Critically Endangered” - Critically endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN for wild species. Critically endangered means that a species numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations (src: Wikipedia) :


Range Habitat and Ecology

The Serval occupies large areas south of the Sahara what called “sub-Saharan Africa”. They do not occupy the desert or tropical rainforest. North of the Sahara they occupy fragmented habitat in low populations.


Serval range. Published under Wikimedia® creative commons license = Attribution-ShareAlike License.

Here is a picture of a possible Serval habitat:

Kenya, Africa. Photo by scaglifr.

Apparently Servals are common in most reserves. Outside the parks their population is uncertain. They are found in long grass in savanna landscapes but can also be found higher above sea level up to 3,800 on Mount Kilimanjaro and in forest. They prey on rodents (in wetlands) in the long grass, listening and then jumping up high and pouncing on the prey stunning and killing. They are also able to catch birds in flight (as the bird takes off).

Threats and Conservation

Threats include:
  • wetland habitat loss/degradation through human activity
  • burning of grassland
  • overgrazing of livestock
  • skin trade (skins seen in Morocco for example)
  • medicinal and ceremonial use of body parts (e.g. Nigeria)
  • killed by farmers to protect livestock
Conservation includes:
  • Listed in CITES Appendix II (“…lists species that are not necessarily now threatened with extinction but that may become so unless trade is closely controlled.”)
  • hunting banned or regulated in many African countries
  • they occupy protected reserves (e.g. Aberdare Mountains N.P. (Kenya))
Some more:
  • Serval Cats (focus on legal stuff)
  • Tame Serval (more on the boy cat featured on this page)

From Serval Cats to Savannah Cats

Sources - this section about the wildcat:
  • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™
  • Wikipedia
  • PoC
  • Photo of Serval Cat in the wild on the road: by Duncan Fawkes - published under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs creative commons License -- this site is for charitable purposes in funding cat rescue.
  • Photo of white Serval: licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

This section deals mainly with domestic Serval topics

Serval cats - fine photo - by patries71 - see base of post for licensing

This medium sized and athletic African wildcat is one of the ancestral parents of the domestic wildcat, hybrid the Savannah cat. Some people say that the Ashera GD of LifeStyle Pets Inc. (Allerca cats) is an unregistered Savannah cat. Even if it is (there is no strict evidence), the Ashera GD is claimed to be hypoallergenic and no cats are claimed to be hypoallergenic other than the Ashera GD and the other Allerca cats that are said to be hypoallergenic

Serval cats are closely related to the Caracal. The Caracat is one of the ancestral parents of a lesser known domestic cat wildcat hybrid called a Caracat.

The Caracal is not a tamed wildcat that can has on occasiona become a pet cat but the Serval quite definitely is. I believe that the only place where this happens is in America and if not there are very few tamed or domesticated Serval cats in Europe or the rest of the world except perhaps in zoos.

What I mean is this. Serval cats despite their size and nature and the demands that that places on a human companion are treated as domestic cats in some households.

I have written a full page on the main site about the Serval cat:- see the Serval cat. This covers topics such as behavior and a nice story about a Serval cat in a London restaurant in the heart of the West End in 1923 - yes 1923. Domestication of this cat is nothing new.

I also put down a marker on this page as to what really are the bigger and more important issues namely, the legal requirements. Despite being tamed this is a bona fide wildcat and not a hybrid (F1, F2 hybrids can be a handful -see F1 Savannahs and Helmi and Ken Fick living with a Chausie another wildcat hybrid). I would particularly recommend reading Ken and Helmi's thoughts about living with an F1 hybrid domestic cat/wildcat before anyone proceeds to acquire any first generation wildcat hybrid never mind a tamed wildcat, which will magnify the demands and "problems". You might like to see an F1 Chausie in a face off with a parrot or playing in a bathful of water. I am not being negative I hope just realistic and sensible.

In addition to the Flick's excellent advice here are some pointers from a very sensible breeder of Serval cats. Her name is Tina Chandler and I use my words having read hers, and she says she doesn't want to be negative either (she is being wisely realistic becuase if we fail to manage this cat properly she/he may be confiscated by the local authority and euthanased and we owe every cat a lot more than that):
  • it is better to adopt a kitten as one can better bond with a young cat and wildcats and hybrids are able to bond very strongly - very affectionate. Also a Serval kitten will be socialized with other pets and learn to live with them. An adult Serval may not take kindly to the introduction of another pet and if the other pet is the right type and size may consider the pet to be prey.
  • once weaned Serval cats are "high energy" (do you have to time and commitment to manage this energy?).
  • there may be legal requirements - these need to be thoroughly checked before going any further - see some contact details and thoughts are below.
  • cats spray for territorial reasons. Neutering cats stops or eases the "problem". Servals are wildcats and do the same. Neutering and spaying may not remove the problem (this is not a problem for the cat). Can we cope with that? A lot of people can't, I suspect. To me this and the characteristics of this fine cat means people shouldn't adopt unless they have the space and an enclosure (see building an enclosure).
  • other pets need to be considered. Serval cats are very efficient hunters (50% success rate - frightened?).
There are also moral decisions to be made and veterinarian issues. I discuss these briefly below.

Serval cat
Serval cat photo copyright Helmi Flick - this is a thumbnail -click on the image for more.

Legal Stuff

For me the first thought that comes to mind when thinking of living with Serval cats is, "Are there regulations and legal requirements governing the keeping of wildcats?" And the answer probably is a yes but what exactly are they? I am not going to research State by State as it is too time consuming. You will find that there is a gradual tightening up of stat-by-state regulations on the keeping of wild cats or what is termed "exotic animals". Please check the law of the state concerned. This is very important and should be the starting point if you have the idea of owning a serval as a pet (ill-advised in my view).


The point that I am making here is this. Is your local vet up to scratch on African wildcats? It is not automatic that a vet will be able to treat an exotic wildcat as well as a domestic cat. OK, they are both cats and therefore very similar but there may some differences and if there are does the veterinarian know them? I wouldn't blame anyone if he didn't. In all professions there are specialists because there is too much to know and to experienced at as a "generalist". I'd make sure that my local veterinarian was good at treating wildcats and Serval cats before adopting.

Moral Issues

I know that I have mentioned this before but some people haven't seen the description of Serval cats on the main site (see this picture if you've missed it). When we adopt and keep a Serval cat we are putting that cat in an unnatural environment for our benefit. Might it be better if we made efforts to ensure that Serval cats were protected in their natural outdoors environment? This would help the cat, not us. Click here to see what I said on the main site.

From Serval to a portrait of a Serval kitten

Serval cats - photo heading this section (bottom section): This photograph is published under a Wikimedia® creative commons license license = Attribution-ShareAlike License


  1. Wow…. Cats are the best as pet according to me, I just love them.

  2. This is ridiculous. There is no such thing as domesticated WILD cats. By definition, they're WILD. You should never be so selfish as to keep a wild cat in your home; you're depriving your animals of the life they're supposed to be leading. There's sanctuaries all over the U.S. dedicated to helping these cats after someone has neglected them and they're having to turn cats away because so many irresponsible people are making selfish choices. This is horrible that you're endorsing such behavior.

  3. Response to last comment. I am not endorsing the keeping of servals as pets. I am against it personally. I have to keep a balanced view though and I describe what is happening.

    I disagree. Wildcats can be domesticated. The first examples of the domestic cat where domesticated wildcats.

    I guess it is a question of semantics, however.

  4. I have heard that these cats are amazing at catching birds. Has anyone ever used them to control birds at airports?

    1. The answer is no. I think you may be confusing the caracal and serval. The serval normally hunts rodents in long grass. The caracal leaps to catch birds in the air. Thanks for commenting.


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