This slender built cat stands 500 mm at the shoulders. The back, flanks and tail are covered with a golden brown coat, with black stripes down the spine and black spots on the flanks and tail. The serval has extraordinarily long legs for its body size which can be up to 3 feet in length, whilst standing up to 20 inches in shoulder height.
The serval has a small but long head and large rounded ears marked with alternating black and white stripes on the rear. It has been observed that the serval uses these prominent stripe markings on its ears to communicate with others of its species. Melanistic servals can be found in the moister and densely forested areas of its range.
Kittens, in litters of three to four, are born in thick grass cover or underbrush. The gestation period is 68-72 days. Births often occur at the end of summer. They are born in a lair, however, to protect them, she will move her offspring frequently to new hiding places. This makes observation of the serval's offspring very difficult.
Like the Cheetah, the mother raises her kittens alone and must leave them frequently to hunt. When the cubs are large enough to hunt, the mother will drive the males away from the family first. Females will stay together with the mother until they become sexually mature. Then they will be driven away by the mother so they can establish their own territories.
Solitary in habits, except when mating or when a female is accompanied by her young. Serval scent mark their large home ranges of 15 - 30 square km. Home ranges are not exclusive, but occupants avoid contact. Scent marking is conducted with urine and faeces.
Males range over larger areas than females. Elusive and shy, servals are for the most part nocturnal, hunting by sight and sound more than scent. In areas of Africa where this cat has not been disturbed, they will also be active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular). It has an excellent sense of hearing and can locate prey that is moving underground.
Once it hears its prey, the serval will quietly approach and then leaping, will pounce on it. Often, they will play with their meal before consuming it.
This cat has a number of different vocalizations which include snarling, growling, spitting, purring and a high pitched cry used to call other servals. When defending themselves, they will arch their backs and growl loudly.
In South Africa, the Serval is found in parts of the Northern Province, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal Drakensberg, and in Lesotho. It is classified as rare in the South African Red Data Book.