How do servals communicate?

Servals communicate through scent-marking, scrapings, body language and vocalisations. Adult servals scent-mark regularly when moving throughout their ranges. Urination is the most common method. The least common method is scaping the ground with the front or hind feet before or after urination.

Captive serval with white rabbit in mouth.
Captive serval with white rabbit in mouth.
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Adult male servals urine-mark often. For example, a male serval in Ngorongoro urine-marked 46 times per hour and 41 times over one kilometer. Another male scent-marked 94.8 times per hour while following a female. Females scent-mark at about half the rate of males. Young adult males mark approx. twice per hour.

It is uncertain if servals defecate as a method of scent-marking (i.e. creating latrines). The onset of estrus results in a high rate of urine marking.

Serval vocalisations are mainly short-range calls in direct encounters. The range of sounds includes: hiss, growl, purr, wah wah and a “swallowed meow” which is believed be a friendly recognition.

As for body language servals have “highly exaggerated aggressive postures and facial expressions”. Serval to serval confrontations can result in ears being folded back to create a “flate plate” and displying the prominent white bars on the ear flaps. The tips of the ears curl over and point towards each other.

The back is arched and the cats stand sideways-on like domestic cats. The fur is erect. Servals try and present an impression of great size. As for sounds under these conditions, they bare their teeth and produce a low mewing sound.

Offensive threat displays can include throwing the head up and down.

“The dorsal fur bristles, the eyes blaze and ferocious explosive barks and growls are interspersed with long-reaching slashes of the forepaws.” – Kingdon J 1977 East African Mammals.

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