At Thanda, in recent months, we have been extremely privileged to have a number of sightings of one of our rarer small cats, the Serval (Leptailurus serval). This beautiful cat possesses grace and agility that rival the most skilled acrobats.
At first glance, the Serval stands out from its feline relatives with its striking appearance. It boasts a slender body covered in a golden coat marked with bold black spots. It’s long legs and slender build give it an appearance reminiscent of a small cheetah. But don’t be fooled by its size – the Serval is a formidable predator with a secret weapon up its sleeve.
What truly sets the Serval apart is its remarkable leaping ability. When it comes to hunting, this cat displays a breathtaking display of agility. With its long, slender legs, the Serval can effortlessly jump up to three meters into the air! This unique adaptation allows it to pounce on unsuspecting prey with incredible accuracy. Its nimble movements resemble those of an acrobat, effortlessly maneuvering through tall grasses in pursuit of its next meal.
While the Serval is primarily a solitary animal, it becomes a force to be reckoned with when it comes to hunting. Armed with exceptional hearing, it can detect the slightest rustle of prey, even underground. Its large ears, measuring about 17 cm in length, serve as precise sound receptors, allowing it to pinpoint the location of small mammals, birds, and even insects.
Once the Serval has homed in on its target, it launches its agile body into action. With a swift pounce, it leaps into the air, employing a technique known as “twisting and striking.” This involves rotating its body mid-air to deliver a powerful blow with its forepaws, stunning the prey and ensuring a swift capture. The Serval’s success rate in hunting is astonishing, as it manages to capture prey in over half of its attempts. To put this into perspective, Lions (Panthera Leo) are successful in just 25%-30% of attempted hunts.
Beyond its hunting prowess, the Serval plays a vital role in its ecosystem as an ecological engineer. By keeping populations of rodents, small mammals, and insects in check, it helps maintain the delicate balance of its habitat. As a result, the Serval’s presence benefits not only the savanna but also the larger food chain, contributing to the overall health and diversity of the ecosystem.
So, when out on a game drive, make sure to look closely through the grass. You may just be rewarded with a glimpse of one of our agile and elegant feline acrobats.
Story by: Lorraine Doyle