African Servals Get A Second Chance

Serval range

Serval range (Source: Wikipedia)

African Servals (Leptailurus serval) are beautiful cats and extremely successful hunters, which are currently doing well on most of the African continent. However, because of habitat loss and poaching, their numbers are declining in South Africa and they are extinct in the southern part of the country. Therefore a wild life sanctuary there has been working on rescuing the cats and later returning them to the wild.

The cats often come into the centre when their mother is poached, or are found after escaping when firebreaks are created.

Field biologist Alex Braczkowski narrates this video in which a cub, one of a pair of brothers, is followed from rescue to release.

According to Wikipedia:

The serval is mainly a nocturnal hunter to avoid being detected by larger predators. Although it is specialized for hunting rodents, it is an opportunistic predator whose diet also includes birds, hares, hyraxes, reptiles, insects, fish, and frogs. Over 90% of the serval’s prey weighs less than 200 g (7 oz). The serval eats very quickly, sometimes too quickly, causing it to gag and regurgitate due to clogging in the throat. Small prey are devoured whole. With larger prey, small bones are consumed, but organs and intestines are avoided along with fur, feathers, beaks, feet or hooves. The serval uses an effective plucking technique in which it repeatedly tosses captured birds in the air while simultaneously thrashing its head from side-to-side, removing mouthfuls of feathers, which it discards.

As part of its adaptations for hunting in the savannas, the serval boasts long legs (the longest of all cats, relative to body size) for jumping, which also help it achieve a top speed of 80 km/h (50 mph), and has large ears with acute hearing. Its long legs and neck allow the serval to see over tall grasses, while its ears are used to detect prey, even those burrowing underground. They have been known to dig into burrows in search of underground prey, and to leap 2 to 3 m (7 to 10 ft) into the air to grab birds in flight. While hunting, the serval may pause for up to 15 minutes at a time to listen with eyes closed. Its pounce is a distinctive and precise vertical ‘hop’, which may be an adaptation for capturing flushed birds. It is able to leap up to 3.6 m (12 ft) horizontally from a stationary position, landing precisely on target with sufficient force to stun or kill its prey upon impact. The serval is an efficient killer, catching prey on an average of 50% of attempts, compared to an average of 38% for leopards and 30% for lions.

The serval is extremely intelligent, and demonstrates remarkable problem-solving ability, making it notorious for getting into mischief, as well as easily outwitting its prey, and eluding other predators. The serval often plays with its captured prey for several minutes before consuming it. In most situations, it ferociously defends its food against attempted theft by others. Males can be more aggressive than females.

7 Responses to “African Servals Get A Second Chance”

  1. mole at the counter says:

    i felt so miserable on hearing the phrase ‘illegal skin trade’. What a wonderful species we can be when we put our ‘minds’ to it.

    That said, a superb short film, thanks. Lovely creatures! JAC will adore them I’m sure!

    As an aside, if I may? – I also think when I see films like this that the fitted ‘collars’ look rather cumbersome, and do seem possibly uncomfortable. What do you think? I get that it is necessary… but… (I am possibly thinking though about my dislike of wearing a tie or anything around my neck! A sort of mammalian relativism!)



    • I had the same response when I watch the film to the phrase “illegal skin trade.” I felt ill just hearing it.

      We have these wonderful people rehabilitating the animals, but it was us who caused many of their problems.

      I hate wearing stuff around my neck too. It looks they’re making every effort to make them as comfortable as possible though, like the collar buckles being pre-rusted so they’ll fall off about the time the battery goes flat, and they seem to be careful how tight they do them and how heavy they are. My thinking is that as long as they’re getting useful data that will help servals in the future, it’s worth it.

    • rickflick says:

      Based on my experience with my dog, I think the collar is not a problem for the serval. When I first used a training collar with a radio controlled buzzer on my dog, it was mildly amused for only a few seconds. Ever since then it completely ignores it. When I want to put it on, it comes eagerly because it knows it means a walk in the woods is next.
      In the wild, the serval is spending most of it’s time hunting which means it’s mind is on nothing else but finding prey. Even though the collar looks obtrusive to us, I suspect the serval never thinks about it.

  2. Todd Steinlage says:

    They are truly magnificent animals. Thanks for posting 🙂

  3. Mark R. says:

    Awesome post. Thanks!

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