Can servals be black?

The picture below is of a black serval taken by a camera trap in the Kilimanjaro area of Tanzania. It is the first picture of a black serval that I have seen in Tanzania. Black servals are relatively common in Kenya or they were in 2002. Things may change because of pressure by humans.

Black serval in Tanzania. Camera trap photo by research group of Julius-Maximilians-Universität (JMU) Würzburg in Bavaria, Germany.

Can servals be black? The answer is, yes, servals can be black (melanistic). In fact at 2002, black servals..

“….occur quite frequently in the highland areas of Kenya and Ethopia. During one survey in the Aberdare Mountains of Kenya, twenty-one different servals were identified, of which eight were almost completely black and five others showed varying degrees of melanism” – Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist at page 143.

Melanism is caused by genetic mutation.

“Cats that carry the gene mutation that causes melanism are called “melanistic cats”. Melanism is caused by a dominant autosomal allele. The same source says that it is caused by an ‘autosomal recessive gene’. This appears to be conflicting information and shows that science is unsure of the genetic mechanisms involved.” – Michael Broad in a previous post written many years ago.

In short, the serval normally has a yellow background color with dark, inky spots. The melanistic genetic mutation means melanin, a dark brown/black pigment impregnates all the hair strands rather than some (the ones that create the spots). Sometimes you see a charcoal black and ghost markings (spots). The most famous melanistic cat is the black jaguar which is often referred to as the black panther.


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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.
Useful links
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FULL Maine Coon guide - lots of pages
Children and cats - important

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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