Reproduction and development of serval cats

Young tame male serval at A1 Savannahs around 12 years ago
Young tame male serval at A1 Savannahs around 12 years ago. Screenshot.
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For the serval, estrus (the recurring changes brought on by reproductive hormones) lasts about 4 days. During this time a male and female can stay together. Gestation (pregnancy) is about 74 days. The serval usually has two kittens. Servals are polyestrous (go into heat several times a year) and the location in Africa dictates when the young are born1continued below video…

….For example in:

  • Botswana – births takes place in the wetter months and in
  • Ngorongoro Crater – they take place near the end of the dry season.

Normally serval births occur one month before the “peak breeding season” of murid rodents (the family of mammals called Muridae that include mice and rats). This ensures a plentiful supply of food.

The shortest interval between births is 184 days or at the very best, two litters per year. The den is located in dense vegetation or perhaps a disused burrow.

Below is a female and her melanistic cubs which is interesting. Both are black due to melanism caused by a genetic mutation. The same mutation that creates the black panther (melanistic big cats such as the leopard and jaguar).

The time table from birth onwards can be set out as follows:

Age of kitten/catWhat Happens1
BirthBlind and weighing about 250 grams (you can see exactly how this looks in the video above). The fur (once cleaned and dry) is soft and woolly and greyer than that of the adult serval.
9-13 daysEyes open – during these earlier days of life the mother’s movements outside the den are limited allowing her to nurse her young. After a while she gradually reverts back to her usual range.
One monthMother brings food back to the den (the still photo of Cameron in the video was taken when he was about 5 weeks of age). Mothers obviously spend more time hunting which occupies most of the day. The mother’s activity levels are dramatically increased as she has to travel over greater distances, 2x normal levels, on a daily basis to catch more prey.
1 month+Kittens have a desire to accompany mother on hunting trips. Mother doesn’t agree! Hunting starts at 6+ months.
6 monthsPermanent teeth acquired.
6+ monthsKittens begin to hunt.
1 yearAdults chase them and drive them away from the natal area. Usually males leave to find their own home range before females who may leave a few months later than males.

Females become sexually active at just over one year of age. Servals live for about a maximum of 20 years in captivity and for half that in the wild. During her lifetime and in the wild a female serval may raise to 16 – 20 offspring1.

Update May 19th 2022: I feel I should add a few details to the page. Sometimes during oestrus, the male and female serval travel and rest together. If the kittens die or are removed soon after birth captive servals are able to give birth to 3 or 4 litters a year. Under normal conditions the shortest interval between births is, as mentioned above, 184 days. The birth den is usually dense vegetation. Sometimes females can make use of a disused burrow which has been dug by an aardvark or porcupine. When the kittens are about a month old the mother brings food back to the den.

Mothers normally restrict their movements when they have very young kittens and gradually expand their foraging as her offspring grow. Females must step up their hunting efforts to feed their young and they spend a large part of their day finding food. They spend about twice as much time hunting as normal and their resting time is reduced substantially. They have to travel much further to catch more food. It is believed that they double their food intake by doubling the normal distance travelled which amounts to 2.5 km per day when engaged in this extra activity.

Reproduction and Development of Serval Cats – Source:

1. Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist page 147. ISBN: 0-226-77999-8 Published by The University of Chicago Press. page 147.

Some more on the serval.

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The British Columbia law on owning a serval is a mishmash.
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Serval Morpheus hissing at me in his cage in Oklahoma 2008. Photo: Michael
This concise posting on The Social Organisation of Serval Cats to Serval Cats must start by saying that servals are ...
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