The serval, Leptailurus serval, also known as the “tierboskat,” is a wild cat found in Africa. First described by German naturalist Johann Christian Daniel von Schreber in 1776, the serval is the only member of its genus, Leptailurus. It is the tallest of Africa’s small cats, with the longest legs in proportion to its body of any felid. It also has very prominent ears that function like a dish antenna to pinpoint small prey, above and below ground.
Servals are found widely throughout sub-Saharan Africa, with the exception of the tropical rainforest in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Major threats to the serval are habitat loss and degradation by human interaction and overuse (livestock grazing). Servals are also infrequent prey for larger predators, such as leopards, hyena, and lions. The serval remains present in much of its historic range, though it is extinct in much of South Africa and has been reintroduced in Tunisia.
The serval has very specific habitat requirements and as such it occupies a narrow range of ecological tolerance. Found mostly in wetlands and grasslands throughout sub-Saharan Africa, the serval requires a high prey density and thick vegetation within which to hide from larger predators.
Like the majority of felids, the serval is a solitary animal and does not live or work together in groups.
Prey animals are overwhelmingly rodents, but also include birds, reptiles, and arthropods; with infrequent predation of smaller livestock as well. The serval has extremely fast paw strike and can jump nearly 12 feet vertically, enabling it to catch birds out of flight.
Carson is handsome and distinctive, with a wide pink stripe on his nose as well as ears that are large even by serval standards; his striking facial markings make him one of the most easily identifiable animals at the center. With his laid back, gentle personality, he is the perfect companion for his roommate, Akai Serval. He enjoys seeing visitors—especially if they have something he thinks he wants!—and relaxing in one of his hammocks on warm days.
Akai was born in May 2006. She is an opinionated serval who prefers to do her own thing. Little escapes her notice, however, and anything “interesting” going on around her area gets her attention...especially if there might be a treat in it for her! A former, well-tended pet, Akai’s owners became concerned when Akai began consuming household items, like pillows and blankets. They reached out to the Conservators Center for assistance and funded Akai’s current enclosure, complete with indoor living quarters. She happily shares this space with the easygoing Carson Serval.
Oz and his companions, Harriet and Misha, arrived at the Center in Spring 2008. You can tell him apart from his girls by his soft facial markings, which give him a perpetual friendly expression. Oz’s previous owner ran a breeding facility, but developed health issues and wanted to make sure the trio continued to receive good care. We love servals and had no problem taking them in! Shortly after the trio’s arrival, Oz became a father when Misha gave birth to four male kittens. (These male kittens—Sammy, Mojo, William, and Obi—are now adults and live right next door to their parents.) On an average day, Oz dozes off in his enclosure’s soft grass...but this friendly boy does love to seek out attention from his human friends when he spots them!
Along with Oz and Misha, Harriet arrived in the Spring of 2008. Harriet is a petite serval girl with a broad pink stripe that covers most of her nose. With her delicate face and frame, in fact, her ears look huge on her! Harriet prefers to keep to herself much of the time, but enjoys her companions Oz and Misha. We’ve found she can be very opinionated when her favorite visitors stop by to see her, too. She has been known to take full advantage of scent enrichment, but prefers to enjoy it once she believes no one is watching.
Lena was born in March of 2000 and lived her first couple of years in Michigan as an educational animal. In 2002, however, she made it clear to her owners she wanted a change of pace. Additionally, Lena was dismayed that her home didn’t smell like her, so she began spraying urine in some very inconvenient places! Since an outdoor enclosure in Michigan was not an option, Lena’s owners funded a large enclosure for her, complete with swinging perches and other fun amenities, at the Conservators Center. Lena shares her space with Sasha and Masufa Servals. Ever the proper and graceful lady, Lena will let down her regal demeanor only when she sees a box with scent enrichment in it.
Masufa, affectionately known to his friends as “Sufi,” is a senior serval with distinctive black “teardrops” below his eyes. In the late afternoon, visitors can spot Masufa enjoying the sun in some tall grass or watching for one of his human friends to greet him. Masufa is especially fond of scent enrichment, and he often will wake up from a nap when someone arrives with a cardboard box infused with a fascinating smell, thoroughly drenching it with his drool.
Born in 2000, Sasha is a typical serval girl in terms of appearance: petite, with a delicate face that makes her characteristically large serval ears look even bigger. She shares a spacious enclosure with Lena and Masufa Servals. Since Sasha moved in with them, we’ve noticed that she has become more interested in human attention…particularly when it involves compliments or something tasty! Sasha has also discovered the joys of scent enrichment during our Treats and Toys Tours, but will often wait until the crowd has passed before savoring her smelly gift.
Mojo and his brothers, Obi, Sammy, and William, were born at the Center in 2008 after their mother Misha, arrived pregnant. With his sweet face and kind eyes, it’s easy to fall in love with Mojo. Luckily, he is as fond of people as they are of him, and often demonstrates his affection for special two-legged friends in typical serval fashion: purring, drooling, and occasionally spraying! As a youngster Mojo often acted like a clown, but he’s mellowed into a playful, sweet-hearted adult who enjoys chasing anything that moves and spending time with his human friends.
William is the strong, silent type, and a bit reclusive. The largest of the four serval boys, he projects a tough-guy attitude (often greeting visitors with a hiss). Deep down, however, he’s a big ol’ softie, and shows that side freely with his human friends. William is very attached to his brothers, all born at the Center in 2008, and spends much of his time snuggling in a hammock with one or more of them by his side.
Obi, whose name means “heart” in the language of the Igbo tribe in Nigeria, has truly grown into his name. A sensitive soul who wears his heart on his sleeve, Obi not only clearly telegraphs his mood to humans but seems to be in tune with his three brothers (all born in 2008) and will typically gravitate toward whichever boy needs Obi’s companionship the most that day. Servals are typically solitary in the wild, so we are delighted that our four serval brothers have remained the best of friends as adults.
A tall, strong serval, Sammy was born at the Center along with his three brothers in 2008. To tell him apart from his siblings, look for the wide dark stripes on his legs and a tiny black dot in the vertical pink stripe on his nose. Sammy enjoys interacting with new visitors as well as old friends, and he often greets people with a loud “meh,” a typical serval sound. Sammy’s confident, outgoing personality earned him the honor of being trained as an ambassador animal. Sammy has made several visits to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to teach people about servals and the importance of conservation.
Born in 2013, Odin Serval started life as an illegal pet and was eventually rehomed with a staff member of the Conservators Center who is a USDA-licensed exhibitor and experienced animal handler. Since that staff member spends a lot of time at the Center, she made the decision to move Odin and his companion, Nyasha, to the Center. She continues to contribute to Nyasha and Odin’s care daily. His very best friend in the world is Nyasha, with whom he cuddles often.
Nyasha Serval, who is six years old (born in 2011), started as an animal ambassador doing educational programs. When she outgrew that interest, and when her owner relocated to become a staff member at Center, Nyasha came with her. Since that staff member spends a lot of time here, she made the decision to move Nyasha and her companion, Odin, to the Center. She continues to contribute to Nyasha and Odin’s care daily. Reserved Nyasha takes a while to warm up to people, but once she decides she likes you, she really likes you! Her favorite creature, however, is not a human at all but her best friend and roommate, Odin.