A serval is a wild cat with golden yellow to buff coat and black spots/stripes. Native to Africa and distributed to the sub-Saharan countries (apart from the tropical ones), this species is taller than domesticated cats. Its average size is between 54 and 62 while standing, and adults can weigh up to 18 kg.

Apart from its legs, a serval’s big ears are another telling difference separating it from most domesticated cat species. However, can servals survive in captivity? How do they communicate? Here is everything you need to know about serval behavior.

Serval Social Behavior and Adaptations

Servals are primarily solitary animals; they only socialize during mating, even so, for a short period. Males are naturally big-bodied compared to females. Even though their ranges might overlap, these species do not like confrontations. They often prefer running away or hiding.

While there are several serval sub-species, they are all crepuscular. This means that they are primarily active in twilight and dawn hours. However, there have been cases where kittens have adopted more diurnal behavioral adaptations, especially in captivity. Even though they like to mark their territories, servals rarely visit their resting site more than once.

Serval Behavior in Captivity       


Servals have several undesired behaviors that make them hard to domesticate. For instance, they are fond of scent-marking their territories with urine; they can’t freely do this in captivity. Also, they are self-injurious with their excessive grooming and have many stereotypic behaviors. They can be overly aggressive in some situations.

Serval Feeding Behavior

Rodents are servals’ prominent meals– the cats are well adapted to this. However, they can also hunt hyraxes, hares, fish, frogs, insects, and birds. Even though observers have seen servals take on bigger prey, such as small antelopes, they prefer ones that weigh less than 7 ounces.

Servals have unique hunting habits. They usually pause for about 15 minutes just to listen to their surroundings with their eyes closed. With their incredible jumping capabilities, servals can easily target low-flying birds and insects.

Their chances of hunting success are rated at 50%, which is highly effective by regular standards. Another interesting trait about servals is that they eat so quickly that they sometimes have clogged throats, which require them to regurgitate their food.

Serval Mating and Breeding Behavior

Even though servals are mainly solitary animals, couples usually remain close when the female is in estrus. This period usually lasts between 1 and 4 days. Since breeding primarily depends on the female’s receptivity, the males typically watch out for signs such as:

  • Specific purring vocalization
  • Body language, such as chest lowering and hindquarters raise
  • When the female is generally “welcoming” to the male. Signs include chinning and rubbing their bodies and cheeks against their preferred males.

When ready for copulation, the male serval will mount the female from the back while biting her neck’s nape. Depending on the conduciveness of the environment, servals can give birth twice a year. Their gestation period is about 74 days.

Communication Behavior of Servals

Servals can communicate through vocalizations, scrapings, scent-marking, and body language, depending on the message they want to pass. For instance, male servals urinate throughout their ranges when marking their territories.

Scent-marking for servals is so often and unique. Observers at the Ngorongoro conservation area in Tanzania once noted that a male serval urine-marked 46 times every hour. This was about 41 times per kilometer. Scent-marking is even more rapid in female pursuit as male servals can do so over 90 times per hour.

Female servals do not care much about territories, though. Their rate of scent-marking is about half that of the males. Other communication methods, such as vocalization, are often short-range calls, especially during confrontations. They include swallowed meows, hissing, purring, and growling.

These wild cats rarely use body language, but they include evident aggressive facial gestures and specific postures when they do. When 2 servals confront each other, they may fold their ears back, making the white bars on their ear flops visible.


Servals have the longest ears of any cat species. They are characterized by small heads, golden-yellow coats, and black stripes. Commonly found in sub-Saharan African countries, these species have unique behavior that makes them fascinating. They are primarily solitary animals and only mingle during breeding time.

These cats primarily feed on rodents but do not might hunting small birds, insects, and hares. Due to their undesirable behavior and aggressive nature, servals do not do well in captivity. They thrive better in their natural habitats.

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