Africa, mostly south of the Sahara Desert


Along waterways in savannas and forests

Super sleek

…he runs through a considerable space in an instant, and may be said only to appear and disappear…. This serval resembles the cat in its figure, and the tiger (that is the panther or leopard) by the black and white spot of its hair.—Count DeBuffon, Natural History, General and Particular, 1780.

African servals are small, slender cats with long legs, a lean body, short tail, and a small head. Their extra-long neck and legs give them the nickname "giraffe cat." Servals have a coat that is tawny with both black lines and spots, while their belly is a soft white. They top out at 40 pounds (18 kilograms) yet have the largest ears of any cat. Just how big are those ears? If we had ears in the same proportion to our head as servals do, they would be the size of dinner plates!

Grassy home

Servals live near thickly planted streams and rivers in the savannas of central and southern Africa. Unlike many other cat species, these small felines love to climb, leap, and play in water. They are crepuscular to avoid the heat of the day, although they do hunt at night when needed. Servals often share their savanna habitat with caracals and may compete with them for prey. Leopards, wild dogs, and hyenas are serval predators. If needed, a serval can climb a tree to escape.

The serval has the longest legs and largest ears for its body size of any cat.
Ancient Egyptians worshipped the serval for its power and grace.
Servals are perhaps the best hunters in the cat world. While other wild cats are successful in just one of every five or six attempts to kill prey, servals make a kill in about half of all tries.
The name “serval” is believed to come from the Portuguese word lobo-cerval, meaning “lynx.”
Other nicknames for the serval are "bush cat" and "giraffe cat."
As servals use their large ears to pinpoint the location of prey, they seldom hunt on extremely windy days.
Serval births often occur about a month before the peak in the local rodent population.
Servals with black coats are sometimes found in mountainous regions of East Africa.

The San Diego Zoo’s first pair of servals arrived in 1944. Over the years, we have had over 20 servals born at the Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

Often mistaken for young cheetahs by zoo visitors, our serval animal ambassadors are helping make servals a little more familiar. The Zoo’s Shani and the Safari Park’s Zuri, with their trainers, of course, spread the word about servals in the wild. Zuri’s family members, including parents Bella and Jabari and sister Tani, are on exhibit at the Park. Shani can be seen in the Zoo’s Children’s Zoo when a keeper takes her out for a stroll.

Serval populations in the wild have declined but are not considered endangered except for one subspecies, the North African serval Leptailurus serval constantinus. However, like all wild animals, servals can be harmed by habitat loss, global climate change, and hunting for their beautiful fur. It takes the skin of many servals to produce one coat. Fortunately, in many parts of the world the wearing of animal-skin coats for fashion is no longer popular. Sadly, servals are also hunted for sport in southern Africa.

Servals are important to their human neighbors because they catch rodents, which carry diseases and contaminate food supplies. With fewer than 300 servals in zoos around the world and less than 150 in US zoos, getting to know this beautiful feline is a special treat for any animal lover!