Male serval Morpheus hissing

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Photo above of Morpheus by Michael. He lives at A1 Savannahs, OK, USA and is a breeding male serval whose role is to create more servals for sale. His mate is Penelope.

Contents – wildcat as domestic cat:

Wildcat as wildcat:

serval catserval catserval catserval cat

These are thumbnails – all are copyright Helmi Flick
– please respect copyright

Overview of Serval as a Wild Cat

See the links above for detail of specific topics on the serval. The serval is abundant in sub-Saharan Africa and therefore there appears to be little concern about its survival as a species. However in north Africa it is almost extirpated.

This is a solitary, long legged, lean cat with a small head and a bite that is subsequently relatively weak and designed for killing small prey, such as rodents.

It has its own specialized way of hunting and killing prey: long waits listening with its large and sensitive ears, a short stalk, then a high pounce to stun and then kill.

It will eat rodents whole, immediately when caught and killed. Big birds are plucked while small ones are swallowed whole.

Its favorite habitat is grassland watered by permanent water courses. There is a higher congregation of rodents in such habitat plus frogs and fish – it can fish too, using its long legs, finger-like toes and sharp claws.

It can raise about 16 – 20 kittens when living in the wild during its lifetime. Its scientific name is Leptailurus serval.

Introduction – as a domestic cat

This section is primarily about this wildcat being domesticated. Wild cat details to follow shortly (Aug. 2010).

This is a medium sized African wildcat and it can be a domestic cat, albeit quite rare; but not as rare on my reckoning as some other domestic cat breeds (see rare cat breeds). This cat has been domesticated and bred, primarily in the USA. They can be tame wild cats but the keeping of them presents a wide range of differences to that of caretaking a true domestic cat. The Times Newspaper (UK) reported on a case of a tame serval that had accompanied the “owner” to a central London restaurant. The date was November 12th 1923. So, you can see that domestication of this cat is not a recent idea. Read more about this story.

Very strong bonds can be forged between a tame wild animal and humans. Note, though, that although this is a medium sized wild cat, this cat is a very large domestic cat (25-40 lbs compared with 7-11 lbs for a domestic cat – go to a comparison chart on domestic cat size). You can make a comparison between this cat and the Savannah in the photograph below. And get a feel for size in the second video down on this page of a wonderful serval playing with the Flicks and me (a still photo in the video).

I have been in an enclosure with domesticated servals, male and female and they can be intimating. You need a certain amount of confidence. As a domestic cat it will suit very few people.

The Savannah cat is a domestic cat/Serval hybrid and a big cat in its own right (the biggest registered purely domestic cat). Yet, in the photograph below, you can see that the Savannah is very much smaller than her wild relative. As a person who adopts this cat you will be in part responsible for taming it and in doing so you take away from the cat its natural ability to provide for itself. The becomes dependent on the “owner”. There is I think therefore an added responsibility to care for such a serval throughout his or her life. Sadly there are a number of example where this has not taken place. See for example: Serval Escapes.

In the Savanna habitat this cat’s diet is mainly small animals such as rodents and includes insects, birds, fish, reptiles and occasionally larger animals such as small antelope. This needs to be kept in mind when considering the kind of diet that you will be providing (see below). However, a raw cat food diet would seem to not be obligatory.

The scientific name for this cat is Leptailurus serval.

Behavior – Appearance

This tamed wild cat likes to head butt a lot and yes they purr just like your standard Moggie (well not exactly like your Moggie – much louder actually – you’ll love the purr).

serval cat

Jumping – they can jump 8 feet up. credit: jurvetso

Their meow is unusual. It is a mixture of a birds “chirp” and a kitten’s meow. The Maine Coon also chirps and trills. The cat is dog-like in character playing fetch etc. Wild cat/domestic hybrids such as the Bengal are also dog-like.

It must be the wild genes, which when domesticated produces this characteristic. This may also be associated with cat intelligence as it seems the wild cats and wild cat hybrids are very intelligent, which makes the cat more trainable.

They also like to play in and with water (same as the Bengal). Some owners/breeders keep pools in the cat’s enclosure for this reason. This love of water extends to liking rain. 

The photographs on this page show how big the ears are (click on the thumbnails above if you haven’t already to get a good look). They also show you that her ears are tall and erect. They allow the this wildcat to pick up sounds that we cannot hear and “home-in” on the source of the sound with unerring accuracy.

They kill their prey by jumping powerfully up in the air and landing their front paws onto the prey, killing it (see the video below). They apparently have a 50% kill rate, which is exceptionally high. 

Serval Cat
Serval cat (female)
photo copyright Kathrin Stucki A1 Savannahs

There is obviously a lot of pleasure and fascination to be gained in living with a tame wild animal with the kind of skills that this cat has.

Here are some more comparisons between this cat and standard domestic cat:

ServalDomestic Cat
more prone to litter box and spraying problemsrarely have to deal with spraying problems unless they are unneutered
jump high and crash through thingswhen they jump they do so with a certain precision and rarely knock things over
like to spend most of their time using teeth and claws in playlike to play a normal amount
deadly pouncing actionpounce sometimes but rarely in play
need huge litter boxnormal litter boxes
faster reflexesaverage reflexes
strongaverage strength
exceptional jumping skillsaverage jumping skills, although some are exceptional – Chausie, NFC
very large claws!average claws
hissing can mean she is excited and pleased to see youhissing and back arched means threatened and defensive
tendencies to chew anything and swallow thingsno such tendencies or rarely happens, but sometimes present in wildcat hybrids such as the Bengal cat.

Video above — Mother giving birth. She is Dea and she is tame and a breeding cat at A1 Savannahs.

It is helpful if you train this cat breed at an early age (
for example, to accept being restrained) to help manage the extra demands that a cat of this type imposes on you. Gloria Stephenson who wrote, “Legacy of the Cat”, makes some valuable points about this cat:

  • They may be kept as companion cats only if they have been fully socialised. That means raised by the breeder from birth until sold and when raising by hand like that it should be with an eye to ensuring a well adapted cat used to people and other animals.
  • These cats are high energy which might lead to them living dangerously! The house should be “child proof”.
  • Gloria more or less actively recommends cat declawing. I am surprised. This is a nasty operation and the description is misleading. Even the vets and vet techs need to play games to do the operation! That said when a Serval scratches it can be a lot worse than for a domestic cat. Is that a good reason for not domesticating the serval?
  • As mentioned the serval is high energy and will need exercise.
  • This cat should not be left alone with children, Gloria says. Is this another reason for not domesticating this very athletic cat breed?
  • They can escape. This can lead to the death of the animal particularly if declawed. Read Serval escapes. I accept that this is a controversial article but as stated this is not a one dimensional site.

The pictures show the appearance better than words. Some obvious things stand out:

  • The wildcat species has very long legs and large ears. Both these physical attributes are in tune with the cat’s survival in the wild. As mentioned the ears pick up sound very effectively and locate the prey accurately and the legs provide massive leverage to jump high and down onto prey killing it.
  • The ground color varies from tan to orange. The spots are dark brown to black. The tail has several rings. The serval is a graceful cat.


Savannah resting on top of a Serval copyright Helmi Flick

The Law

The laws governing the keeping of a wild animal obviously varies from country to country and in the US from State to State. An absolute must is to study the situation carefully before embarking on adopting this magnificent cat. At 2010, There is a general tightening up of the regulations governing “exotic animals” in the USA and some states prohibit it (e.g. Massachusetts). These regulations affect wild cats and wild cat hybrids. People who keep high fillial wildcat hybrids should, I feel, be particularly aware of the legislation or legislation that might be in the pipeline (in the form of a bill).

It would seem impossible to contemplate “owning” a wild but tamed cat without having a lot of space and the financial means to build a large and well equipped enclosure. There will be laws governing everything to do with this cat as wild animals are potentially dangerous to humans. For example, there will probably or possibly be laws governing the materials used in an enclosure and the design of the enclosure. Want to own a Serval in New York State or city? This page might help: Adopting a Serval Cat in New York State.

You might like to read this page too which touches more on legalities: Serval cats [link].

The Moral Issues


Above: ‘Serena’ – a captive serval. No judgment or comment provided, but here are some thoughts:

  • is it right to keep a wild animal in an enclosure all its life?
  • whose interest are you thinking of when you think about adopting this or any wild cat, yours or the cats?
  • can you guarantee to comply with the law?
  • how will neighbors react?
  • can you guarantee to protect your serval (you owe this cat full protection for life once adopted)?
  • can you meet the demands? On 27th Jan. 2008 there was story on the news that there was a serval running around West Seattle. Another serval had been found 2 weeks earlier doing the same thing. Obviously some people are unable to meet the demands to the detriment of the cat. Serval Escapes.


Ideally, you will need to replicate the wild diet. That requires study and care. Raw meat, poultry and fish must be the body of the diet. Breeders would probably suggest supplements such as vitamins and calcium. See Raw Food Diet.

Veterinary requirements

It is likely that any vet can deal with this wildcat but some vets will be better equipped than others. Do you know who they are? I would check this out thoroughly beforehand.

Serval cat called Serena
She is tame and her name is Serena

The Ears

If you click on the thumbnail photograph second from the left at the top of this page you will see in large format the interesting ear pattern on the back of the ears. There must be a reason for such a pronounced white marking, but what is it? An aggressive and hostile cat will display a special ear posture; the ears are rotated and slightly flattened so that they become visible from the front.

The position is half way between alert and defensive (flattened). This is a signal to another animal that the cat is ready to attack. The half flattened position says that you don’t frighten me such that my ears are totally flattened (defensive position to protect the ears). This special ear position also allows this wild cat to quickly fully flatten her ears if the opponent decides to attack and a fight ensues.

See also a Caracals Can Communicate With Their Ears


There will be a huge desire to declaw as a this cat has big sharp claws. But declawing is in my opinion inherently wrong and can never be justified. It is a serious procedure that may well damage the cat emotionally. You will be adopting a wild cat and then taking away from the cat a very substantial part of his “being” and psyche.

Some breeders will have the operation done automatically; shame on them. Do you want to adopt a wild cat or not? This website has some articles on the subject and there are many on the internet. All right minded people say, “don’t do it”. See Declawing Cats.

A Story 

This is an interesting story because it concerns a court case of November 12th 1923 in which a race horse trainer sued a person who had taken a tamed Serval into a central London restaurant (the West-End), the Cafe Royal, which is very near Piccadilly Circus. This is right in the middle of London.

The race horse trainer had been allegedly bitten by the Serval as he sat down in the restaurant. He sought damages and the legal action threw up some interesting “evidence” about the domestication of this wild cat. It is also interesting to note how long ago that Servals were considered to be suitable as a domestic cat, at least by some people.

The evidence given concerned whether such a cat could be truly tamed. It was suggested that the wildness in this cat could not be completely “eradicated”. When they were young things were alright. The cat concerned was given to the “owner” in South Africa when 8 months old (and subsequently imported into England). As the cat became an adult, it was argued, (for the person who was bitten) that their wildness was more likely to be revealed.

A book entitled, “Animal Life in Africa” by a Major J Stephenson-Hamilton had stated that this cat did not lend itself easily to domestication. The food of the Serval was large rats and guinea fowl.

I had thought that the tamed Serval as a domestic cat was an American idea. I was wrong.

What Other Visitors Have Said

Click below to see contributions from other visitors to this page…

Owning An Amazing Serval In The UK 
I got my amazing serval, whom I named Nala from Hotspot Exotics here in the UK. They are the only producers of F1 Savannahs in the UK and have Serval …

Serval Threats and Conservation 
For serval threats and conservation I refer to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species® (IUCN) and the renown book, Wild Cats of the World (WoW). The …

Male Serval Morpheus and Partner Penelope 
Well, yesterday, I spent the early hours of the morning, while the hot sun was coming up in a warm glow, with two gorgeous serval cats, Morpheus, a large …

African Serval Cat Serena 
Yesterday, and this morning, I shared an enclosure at A1 Savannahs, with African serval cat Serena in order to try and take some nice photos and to make …

Interested in Getting a Serval 
Hi there, my name is Lauren and i very very very much love animals and will most defintely be working with them when i grow up (i am only 14 now).

Me …

Capturing a Serval 
I had received a desperate call from a man in PA that heard of my ability to safe-capture wild cats and like a fool I gathered up my Noah & Sarah-Linda …

Beautiful Woodland African Serval Kittens for Adoption 
The African Serval cat is not domestic nor should one be treated as such. These magnificent animals are naturally wild by nature but fairly easy to socialize …

Serval Cats Ecology and Hunting  Not rated yet
Serval cats are found in a range of grassland in Africa including grassland that is associated with water courses. They can also be found in forests, but …

What is the Cat In the Carmax Ad?  Not rated yet
Serval – Is this the cat I’ve been seeing in the carmax “dramatically smart” campaign?

I know this isn’t a discussion board but that cat is so gorgeous …

Serval Hiss  Not rated yet
In this video showing the serval hiss, it is my fault that she hissed. I provoked her.

The reason for provoking her was to get her to move away from …


  • Wikipedia
  • Messybeast
  • breeder sites
  • Desmond Morris
  • Times Archive
  • Myself
Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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