Servals are specialized rodent predators and among the top hunters in the cat family with a 50-percent success rate. By comparison, lions are successful only 20 percent of the time if they hunt alone and 30 percent if they hunt in groups of two or more. The serval’s success lies in a sound-hunting technique that targets prey with great precision. The cat’s large ears rotate like radar dishes, and ultrasonic hearing allows them to tune into the high-pitched sounds that rodents produce, even underground. Unless they are extremely hungry, they avoid hunting on windy days when the rustling of grass interferes with their ability to hear prey. Once prey is detected, they pounce, stunning their quarry with a blow from their forepaws. Servals will use their long limbs to reach into burrows, catching mice, rats, or shrews with their sharp claws. They will flush birds out of hiding spots and can jump up to nine feet in the air, clapping their paws together to catch birds in mid-flight.
During the hottest part of the day, servals rest in the shade. Long legs and a long neck allow them to peer over tall grasses. They have such long necks that they are sometimes called “giraffe cats.” Though they are primarily ambush predators, they can run down prey. In fact, they are second only to cheetahs in speed and can run 45 to 50 miles per hour. Servals can also climb trees and swim but they seldom do. Predators include hyenas, leopards, and wild dogs. Servals are solitary except during mating season. Births appear to be timed to coincide with the wet season, when prey is plentiful. After a gestation lasting two to three months, one to three kittens are born in dense vegetation or an abandoned burrow. The female raises the kittens on her own. They will nurse for four or five months and become independent at about one year.
Servals are found in the grasslands, scrubs, marshes, and woodlands of sub-Saharan Africa.
Like all cats, servals are carnivorous, eating small mammals, birds, fish, and frogs.
Body length is about three feet, and height is roughly two feet. Weight is between 18 and 40 pounds. Lifespan is about 10 years in the wild and up to 20 years in human care.