Leptailurus serval


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Leptailurus serval
Species Authority: (Schreber, 1776)
Common Name(s):
English Serval
French Chat-tigre
Caracal serval (Schreber, 1776)
Taxonomic Notes: A recent molecular phylogeny reveals that the serval is closely allied with the African Golden Cat Caracal aurata and Caracal Caracal caracal (Johnson et al. 2006, Eizirik et al. submitted), diverging from a common ancestor approximately 5.4 million years ago (O'Brien and Johnson 2007).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Least Concern ver 3.1
Year Published: 2008
Date Assessed: 2008-06-30
Assessor(s): Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Henschel, P. & Sogbohossou, E.
Reviewer(s): Nowell, K., Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Breitenmoser, U. (Cat Red List Authority) & Schipper, J. (Global Mammal Assessment Team)
Listed as Least Concern as the serval is relatively abundant and widespread (and even expanding and recolonizing some areas). However, degradation of wetlands is of concern, as is the level of skin trade in west Africa (Ray et al. 2005, Hunter and Bowland in press). Servals are rare south of the Sahara in the Sahel region (Clement et al. 2007). A 2007 Mediterranean Mammal Assessment workshop classified servals north of the Sahara as regionally Critically Endangered (see details below).

The isolated population along the Mediterranean coast, where it is known to occur only in Morocco (Cuzin 2003), possibly in Algeria (K. de Smet pers. comm.), and has been reintroduced (from East African stock) in Tunisia, is classified regionally as Critically Endangered (C2a(1)). There are fewer than 250 mature individuals, each subpopulation is smaller than 50 and completely isolated (from each other and from sub-Saharan African populations).
2002 Least Concern

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: The serval occurs widely through sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of tropical rainforest and the Saharan desert (Nowell and Jackson 1996). North of the Sahara, there are recent records from Morocco (Cuzin 2003) and from northern Algeria (K. De Smet pers. comm.). They went extinct in Tunisia, but a population has been reintroduced into Feijda N.P. (K. De Smet, in Hunter and Bowland in press), with animals of East African stock (F. Cuzin pers. comm.).
Angola (Angola); Benin; Botswana; Burkina Faso; Burundi; Cameroon; Central African Republic; Chad; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Côte d'Ivoire; Djibouti; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Kenya; Liberia; Malawi; Mali; Morocco; Mozambique; Namibia; Niger; Nigeria; Rwanda; Senegal; Sierra Leone; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Swaziland; Tanzania, United Republic of; Togo; Uganda; Zambia; Zimbabwe
Possibly extinct:
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: Outside northern Africa, where it is considered to meet the Red List criteria for Endangered (Cuzin 2003) and the Sahel, where it is rare (Clement et al. 2007), the serval is commonly recorded from most major national parks and reserves. Their status outside reserves is uncertain, but they are inconspicuous and may be common in suitable habitat as they are tolerant of farming practices provided there is cover and food available (Hunter and Bowland in press). The minimum density of servals in optimal habitat in Ngorongoro Crater was 0.42 animals/km² (Geertsema 1985).
Population Trend: Stable

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: In sub-Saharan Africa, servals are found in well-watered savanna long-grass environments and are particularly associated with reedbeds and other riparian vegetation types. They also range up into alpine grasslands, up to 3,800 m on Mount Kilimanjaro (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Hunter and Bowland in press). Servals can penetrate dense forest along waterways and through grassy patches, but are absent from the rainforests of Central Africa, and from desert environments. In North Africa, they are found from semi-desert to cork oak forest on the Mediterranean coast (De Smet 1989; Cuzin 2003). Servals are able to tolerate agricultural areas provided cover is available (Hunter and Bowland in press), and may also benefit from forest clearance and the resulting encorachment of savanna at the edges of the equatorial forest belt (Ray et al. 2005). Serval specialize on small mammals, in particular rodents, with birds of secondary importance (Hunter and Bowland in press).
Systems: Terrestrial

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): The major threat to serval is wetland habitat loss and degradation. Wetlands harbour comparatively high rodent densities compared with other habitat types, and form the core areas of serval home ranges. Of secondary importance is degradation of grasslands through annual burning followed by over-grazing by domestic hoofstock, leading to reduced abundance of small mammals (Nowell and Jackson 1996; Ray et al. 2005).

International legal commercial trade is generally declining (Nowell and Jackson 1996), although skins are still traded in large quantities in some countries, such as Senegal, Gambia and Benin (O. Burnham and I. Di Silvestre, in Hunter and Bowland in press), and exported to North Africa (K. de Smet and F. Cuzin pers. comm. 2007). Serval pelts seen in trade in Morocco could come from elsewhere, or could indicate the species continued existence in that country (Arce and Prunier 2006). Trade in West Africa appears to be primarily for ceremonial or medicinal purposes. For example, they are highly valued for traditional medicine in Nigeria, where, among markets surveyed in five south-west Nigerian towns in 1994, servals were the second most commonly offered mammalian species (Sodeinde and Soewu 1999 in Hunter and Bowland in press).

Although serval very rarely prey upon livestock (and indeed may even be beneficial to crop farmers due to their predilection for rodents), in rural areas throughout Africa, they are sometimes persecuted for taking poultry and indiscriminate predator control methods practiced by pastoralists frequently kill them (Hunter and Bowland pers. comm.).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Included on CITES Appendix II. Hunting is prohibited in Algeria, Botswana, Congo, Kenya, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa (Cape province only), and Tunisia, and hunting regulations apply in Angola, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanzania, Togo, Zaïre and Zambia (Nowell and Jackson 1996).

Servals occur in a number of protected areas across their range, including: El Kala N.P. (Algeria), Feidja N.P. (Tunisia), Ifrane N.P. (Morocco), Comoé N.P. (Côte d’Ivoire), WAPO complex (Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, Togo), Zakouma N.P. (Chad), Simien and Bale Mountains National Parks (Ethiopia), Odzala N.P. (Congo Republic), Virunga N.P. (DR Congo), Queen Elizabeth N.P. (Uganda), Aberdare Mountains N.P. (Kenya), Serengeti and Selous National Parks (Tanzania), Moremi G.R. and Chobe N.P. (Botswana), and Kruger N.P. and Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park (South Africa) (Hunter and Bowland in press). Odzala N.P. in Congo Republic could be a key site for protecting serval as it is the only currently known protected population in the Gabon-Congolian savanna region, which are isolated from the Miombo woodlands south of the Congo River (P. Henschel pers. comm.).

Bibliography [top]

Arce, S. S. and Prunier, F. 2006. Report on serval pelts in Morocco. Cat News 46: 16-17.

Clement, C., Niaga, M. and Cadi, A. 2007. Does the serval still exist in Senegal? Cat News 47: 24-25.

Cuzin, F. 2003. Les grands mammifères du Maroc méridional (Haut Atlas, Anti Atlas et Sahara): Distribution, Ecologie et Conservation. Ph.D. Thesis, Laboratoire de Biogéographie et Ecologie des Vertèbrés, Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Université Montpellier II.

De Smet, K. 1989. The distribution and habitat choice of larger mammals in Algeria, with special reference to nature protection. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Ghent.

Eizirik, E., Johnson, W. E. and O'Brien, S. J. Submitted. Molecular systematics and revised classification of the family Felidae (Mammalia, Carnivora). Journal of Mammalogy.

Geertsema, A. 1985. Aspects of the ecology of the Serval Leptailurus serval in the Ngorongoro crater, Tanzania. Netherlands Journal of Zoology 35(4): 527.

Hunter, L. T. B. and Bowland, J. In press. Leptailurus serval. In: J. S. Kingdon and M. Hoffmann (eds), The Mammals of Africa, Academic Press, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Johnson, W. E., Eizirik, E., Pecon-Slattery, J., Murphy, W. J., Antunes, A., Teeling, E. and O'Brien, S. J. 2006. The late miocene radiation of modern felidae: A genetic assesstment. Science 311: 73-77.

Nowell, K. and Jackson, P. 1996. Wild Cats. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. IUCN/SSC Cat Specialist Group, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

O'Brien, S. J. and Johnson, W. E. 2007. The evolution of cats. Scientific American July: 68-75.

Ray, J. C., Hunter, L. and Zigouris, J. 2005. Setting conservation and research priorities for larger African carnivores. Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, USA.

Citation: Breitenmoser-Wursten, C., Henschel, P. & Sogbohossou, E. 2008. Leptailurus serval. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 24 May 2015.
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