8 fascinating facts about servals: sadly, they are becoming increasingly popular as pets

Hangai Lilla

2024. March 3 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

The serval may be of interest to cat people not only because of their stunning looks, but also because they are the breeding stock for one of the most exotic-looking hybrid breeds, the savannah.


The serval belongs to the feline family and its permanent habitat is the sunlit plains of the savannah. But they are also increasingly being kept as pets, which raises many questions. So let’s see what you need to know about these fascinating, long-legged wildcats.

1. They aren’t threatened, but…

Even though the serval, according to the Red List, is not yet under threat, it cannot be said that they are safe either. Their main threats are humans, who hunt them down for their fur and capture their young to keep as pets. It is still common in West and East Africa but is extinct in the Southern Cape, and numbers are under serious threat north of the Sahara.

2. Also known as giraffe cats

In the feline world, servals have the longest forelegs compared to their body size; this is due to their elongated metatarsals. Their long limbs allow them to jump more than 3.5 m from a standing position when hunting, and up to 2.5 m when upright. They have a staggeringly high 50% success rate in hunts, Lions score 30% in groups, and house cats 32%. They also have a very long neck, which is what earned them the nickname “giraffe cat”.

Thanks to their long legs, they can jump very far and very high.

3. Now that we are talking about records

On top of their small heads, the servals have two very large ears, which are oval in shape. The serval ear is black on the back, decorated with a distinctive white dot. If humans had ears as big as servals compared to their head size, we would be walking around with hearing organs about the size of a dinner plate.

4. They are also purring!

In addition to growling, the servals purr, but they also chirp, howl, blow and mew; they can be heard almost all the sounds that our pets make

5. Boys are quite strange

Servals are mostly solitary (except for while the female is raising her young and during the mating season), but males tend to congregate in groups. During these periods, they may engage in ritual aggression, whereby the two animals sit facing each other and one puts its paw on the other’s chest and the other bites it. The situation can turn into a real fight, but usually, the parties do not go further.

The savannah bears a striking resemblance to its wild "ancestors".

6.The savannah was created with the help of the serval

The savannah is a hybrid variety and also the largest among them. It was bred by crossing servals and domestic cats, most commonly Siamese Egyptian Mau but also in many cases the hybrid Serengeti or Bengal.

Savannahs are extremely intelligent, agile animals that resemble their “ancestors” almost to the touch. They are very talkative, purr a lot and can develop a very deep bond with their owners. They find stress, crowds and change difficult to tolerate. Without a lot of attention, training and investment of time and energy, these cats can become aggressive and depressed.

Another hybrid breed, the Serengeti, was bred to produce a serval-like animal, but the Serengeti has no serval in its bloodline, nor any wildcat directly. To breed them, people use the Oriental Shorthair and Bengal.

7.It’s becoming more fashionable to keep them at home

In the United States in particular, wild animals are increasingly kept as pets, although in most places a licence is required. That said, there are some serious ethical issues involved… Owners have reported that servals are very affectionate, intelligent pets that can form very deep bonds.

8. They are also mated with other species

Because of the savannah, you already know that males can be mated with domestic cats, which will produce reproductively capable individuals. However, servals are also mated with other species, and their closest relatives the caracals. If the soon to be puppy is male, it is called a serval, if it is female, it is called a caraval. Why this makes sense, and why we feel the need to interfere with nature in this way, is unfortunately not something we can answer.

hybrid cats savannah serval wildcat

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