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Serval, Africa's most elegant predator


Soukous
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The serval, or serval cat, is one of Africa’s most elegant predators.

 

Serval

A slender, medium-sized cat it is characterised by a small head, large ears, long legs, a golden-yellow to buff coat spotted and striped with black, and a short, black-tipped tail.

Just 54–62 cm at the shoulder it weighs from 9–18 kg.

 

A serval’s legs are longer, in comparison to the rest of its body, than any other cat and its ears are the biggest.
It puts these ears to good use as a kind of radar to detect the sounds produced by moving animals.

Servals are very successful predators, with a 50% success rate, compared to other cats which average only about a 10% success rate. Their prey consists of rodents, squirrels, frogs, snakes and small birds.

 

Despite the fact that they often hunt by day, servals are elusive cats. Frequently you’ll catch a glimpse of their distinctive ears, just visible above the tall grass, before they disappear again as it moves stealthily in pursuit of its prey.

 

We were therefore extremely excited on our recent safari in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park when we had the opportunity to watch a gorgeous female serval as she hunted.

 

 

Serval

 

We were lucky to see her at all; we rounded a bend in the track to see her back legs disappearing into the long grass. That could so easily have been that. But our guide was confident that he could find her.

We turned off the track and waited, scanning the grass for signs of her position. It didn’t look promising; the grass was high and she was walking further in.

 

 

Serval

 

She stopped for a while; even though we knew where she was we could barely see her. We sat and waited, sometimes patiently, sometimes less so, as she sat and preened herself just like a domestic cat.

 

 

serval

Then she was up again, ears moving as she searched for the sound of potential prey.

 

serval stalking

Every few moments she would stop, alert, listening intently, ready to pounce.

 

 

Serval

 

Although we could follow her progress through the grass, it was a real challenge to try and get a photograph, with the autofocus switching from serval to grass and back again every few seconds. Each time she stopped we’d try to get a shot, but only parts of her would be visible.

Several times we were certain she was about to pounce but something must not have been right and she set off again through the grass.

 

Then she stopped and leaned back slightly, keeping her head steady, muscles twitching as she tensed for the leap.

This was it; she propelled herself towards her prey, leaping upwards and forwards.

 

Serval

 

Serval

 

Serval

 

Serval

 

A couple of seconds later it was all over. She didn’t even bother to sit down to eat. She ate standing up and then moved on in search of the next snack.

 

 

Serval

 

It may not have had the adrenalin rush of a lion or cheetah hunt, but it was a real privilege to watched such an elegant hunter at work. Equally memorable and a far rarer experience.

 

 

 

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sometimes that is true. :rolleyes:

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@Soukous Lovely sighting and great sequence of photos. I have to disagree with your title as my vote for most elegant goes to the caracal :). Mind you the serval does look rather lovely.

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Atravelynn

She was elegant in nice light.  Very fortunate!

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Peter Connan

Lovely! My favorite small cat.

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great series! Love Servals, have been fortunate to have seen several...but still no Caracal :(

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Beautiful series.  Makes me very jealous.  I've still to see it in daylight and in the open.

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18 hours ago, pomkiwi said:

@Soukous Lovely sighting and great sequence of photos. I have to disagree with your title as my vote for most elegant goes to the caracal :). Mind you the serval does look rather lovely.

 

Nah, the caracal is a beautiful cat but way to brutal a hunter to be called elegant. Serval still gets my vote. 

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Great sighting and photos. Love the perfect arc of the jump.

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A beautiful series of photos!

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Lovely pictures of my and my wife's favourite small cat @Soukous. I've only seen them hunting in daylight in the open once in the Ngorongoro crater but a long way from the car so there's only a very blurred photo in my 2005 album.

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Awesome!!!  I would LOVE to see a Serval some day.

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