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The serval, also known as the tierboskat, is a wild cat found in Africa. It was first described by German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1776.
What is the serval?
Eighteen subspecies are recognised. The serval is a slender, medium-sized cat that stands 54–62 cm (21–24 in) at the shoulder and weighs 9–18 kg (20–40 lb). It is characterised by a small head, large ears, a golden-yellow to buff coat spotted and striped with black, and a short, black-tipped tail. The serval has the longest legs of any cat relative to its body size.
Active in the day as well as at night, servals tend to be solitary with minimal social interaction. Both sexes establish highly overlapping home ranges of 10 to 32 km2, and mark them with feces and saliva. Servals are carnivores – they prey on rodents, small birds, frogs, insects, and reptiles. The serval uses its sense of hearing to locate the prey; to kill small prey, it leaps over 2 m (6 ft 7 in) above the ground to land on the prey on its forefeet, and finally kills it with a bite on the neck or the head. Mating takes place at different times of the year in different parts of their range, but typically once or twice a year in an area. After a gestational period of two to three months, a litter of one to four is born. Weaning occurs at one month, and kittens begin hunting on their own at six months. The juveniles leave their mother at 12 months.
Relationship with human beings
The association of servals with human beings dates to the time of Ancient Egypt. Servals are depicted as gifts or traded objects from Nubia in Egyptian art. Like many other species of felid, servals are occasionally kept as pets, although their wild nature means that ownership of servals is regulated in most countries.
Habitat and distribution
The serval prefers areas with cover, such as reeds and tall grasses, and proximity to water bodies, such as wetlands and savannahs. It typically shuns rainforests and arid areas, though it can occur in semi-arid areas and cork oak forests in northern Africa, close to the Mediterranean Sea. Servals also occur on grasslands, moorlands and bamboo thickets at high altitudes; they are known to occur up to 3,800 m (12,500 ft) above sea level on Mount Kilimanjaro.
The serval is confined to Africa – it is rare in northern Africa and the Sahel, but widespread in southern Africa, where their range is reportedly expanding. In northern Africa, the serval is known only from Morocco and has been reintroduced in Tunisia, but is feared to be extinct in Algeria.
Threats and conservation
The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists the serval as least concern; the animal is also included in CITES Appendix II. A major threat to the survival of the serval include the degradation of wetlands and grasslands. Trade of serval skins, though on the decline, still occurs in countries such as Benin and Senegal. In western Africa, the serval has significance in traditional medicine. Pastoralists often kill servals to protect their animals, though servals generally do not prey upon livestock.
Image: By Nick Jewell, CC BY 2.0
Text: Wikipedia contributors. “Serval.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Aug. 2017. Web. 14 Sep. 2017.