Thursday, January 12, 2012

Creature Feature: Servals.

When most people think Africa, they think big animals: Lions, elephants, wildebeest, gorillas, occasionally hyenas, and other creatures generally treated as "big game." In spite of this, Africa also has some of the most fascinating smaller animals out there, including meerkats, ball pythons (yes, that was a plug), and, of course, smaller cats.

Servals (Leptailurus serval - also Felis serval) are among Africa's lesser-known felines. They are not big cats (considered "medium-size" -approx. 3 feet long), meaning that, like smaller cats, they can chirp and purr.  They are native to a good portion of Africa, including Tanzania, Angola, and Ethiopia. There are several subspecies, although exactly how many depends on who you ask. They eat any vertebrate small enough to fit in their mouths, although there are some reports of them taking down game as big as gazelle. They are not endangered at all, but that does not make them any less special than the other African big-shots. It's fairly hard to find a zoo with servals in the U.S.

Servals are well-adapted to hunting on the African savannah. They have the longest legs (proportionately) of any feline, allowing them to jump up to 3 meters high and see over tall grasses with ease. Their large, erect ears let them hear the tiny scritchings of small prey, sort of like fennecs. Although mainly nocturnal, you will find several serval pics with excellent lighting.

The serval is definitely not related to Nyancat.

Serval coats can fetch a very high price on the black market. They are often sold as young cheetah or leopard pelts. The demand for their fur plus their tendency to sneak into chicken coops (they're smart like foxes!) makes them targets for hunters. As such, servals are rarely seen around populated areas...with one exception.

Look at the rest of the page for your daily dose of cute.

Finally, yes, servals can be kept as pets. If you so desire, you can even breed them with a regular cat and get a hybrid called a Savannah. These were covered briefly in my not-quite-breed week, but here's a refresher: A cat that acts almost like a dog to the point of being leash-trainable, eats raw meat, and is by far the largest domesticated cat breed around. Servals themselves are adept problem solvers and  come in black and white phases, just in case you want to be even MORE different. Even if zoos are a little short on servals, there are plenty around in the U.S. Just know your laws, mmkay?

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