Serval – One of Africa’s most secretive creatures

Not many people coming to Africa know of, or have even heard of Servals.

These small cats which almost represent the look of a Cheetah have long legs, a small head, large ears and a beautifully spotted and barred coat.

Servals have quite a wide distribution in Africa - south of the Sahara, with one of their main requirements being close proximity to water as well as adequate cover which they use during periods of inactivity, and which harbor high densities of rodents which forms a big part of their diet. For this particular reason Servals have been largely absent in the Nama-Karoo and Succulent Karoo biomes as well as the rainforests of Central Africa.


Servals are predominately nocturnal animals, although they can be seen active during the day, particularly in East Africa and usually relates to their hunting activity. The difference in behavior can either be from human disturbance, or because of competition with other predators.

Servals are usually solitary animals, unless there is a female with kittens or a mating pair.

Like other small predators Servals tend to use established paths or roads to reach their hunting areas, even if it means a longer journey to get there.

Servals are known for their incredible athleticism whether it be hunting vlei rats in swampy areas often avoided by other species such as African Wild Cat or leaping from a dense cover of vegetation to pounce on their prey. It has been recorded that a pounce could span up to 4 meters and up to a meter high!


The large majority of their diet consist of Murids (a large variety of rodents) with birds being the second preferred meal.

Prey is usually stalked in long grass, getting to within a meter or two before pouncing. Mice are killed by slapping them with a downward blow of the front foot, and then usually carried into dense vegetation where they are hard to detect. This is mainly done to avoid their prized kill being stolen by other predators or birds of prey. Smaller birds are plucked out of the air, thanks to their incredible agility.

What is the Servals biggest threat?

Apart from other larger carnivores such as Lions, Leopard and Hyaenas, one of the big dangers that Serval face is being kept in captivity, often as pets.

Best places to view Serval?

Although it is almost impossible to go looking for these secretive creatures, East Africa is most probably your best bet. After the migratory herds have moved through the Masai Mara and Serengeti, the famous grasslands are much shorter making it easier to find them. The Ngorongoro Crater is another great destination to view these incredible animals.

Servals are incredible animals and although I have only experienced limited time in sightings with them, they remain fascinating and leaves one wanting to know more about their secretive nature. Make sure that on your next safari you add Servals on your to see list.

Till next time...


2 thoughts on “Serval – One of Africa’s most secretive creatures

  1. Tim Allen-Rowlandson


    Beautiful images and a comprehensive description – thanks for sharing

    • Johan Van Zyl

      Thank you so much Tim, really appreciate it. Johan

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