The serval is a successful predator

If you are interested in the wild cat species you may be interested to know if the serval is a successful predator. They are successful! They use the same technique for hunting smaller and larger prey which seems improbable as the technique is to pounce on them from a height and then stun them with a blow from one or both of their paws. The serval then bites the prey animal behind the head to kill them which works very well for most small prey including typically rodents. But it seems they can use the same technique described as “strike-and-bite” even when attacking larger prey.

Image: MikeB (Canva).
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An observer saw this happening when they watched a serval killing a seven-kilogram Thomson’s gazelle fawn. They described what happened as follows: “The method of killing in this case was to spring high above the gazelle and land on it, with all 4 feet, and bite until dislodged by the violence of the fawn’s struggle, when it would circle for a few seconds before making another attack.”

The person who described it was W. York and he recorded his observations in “A study of serval melanism in the Aberdares and some general behavioural information”. Associated: Melanistic serval.

My reference book on the topic of the serval’s feeding ecology tells me that another researcher/scientist, A. A. Geertsema, studied this medium-sized wild cat in Tanzania. They worked out that the serval can be a remarkably successful predator. In the Ngorongoro Crater, “about half of their pounces resulted in a meal, and each serval captured between 5,700 and 6,100 prey per year, equivalent to about 3,950 rodents, 260 snakes, and 130 birds per serval per year”.

I’m quoting the authors of the renowned book on the wild cats, Wild Cats of the World, Mel and Fiona Sunquist.

On my calculation that’s about a maximum of 17 prey animals per day which, I think, puts the predation of the typical feral cat in the shade. Even those living in Australia!

The serval has the longest legs relative to body size of all the wild cat species. This anatomy allows them to jump high and come down hard on their typical prey animal, a rodent, also typically in tall grass where the serval might not detect them visually but where they can pick them out using their large ears and excellent hearing.

Over 90% of the serval’s diet consists of prey weighing less than 200 g. This is about 2% of a female serval’s body weight. This is in complete contrast to the tiger which relies upon large prey animals much larger than itself.

In an earlier post I wrote how servals like to hunting wetlands where they will scoop fish out of the water and consume frogs, crabs and other prey animals living within watercourses.

But the serval also likes to eat snakes, lizards, birds, hares, flamingos, young antelope and duiker to name some examples.

It depends where they are living but, for example, in Zimbabwe a particular species of mouse and rat make up the bulk of the serval’s diet. The vlei rat is also a major part of the serval’s diet in Tanzania particularly in the dry season. In Tanzania the pygmy mouse is also an important prey animal for the serval. This mouse weighs between two and 12 g. The unstripped grass mouse is also popular with the serval weighing between 50 and a hundred grams.

In Tanzania rodents were found in 90% of all the faeces examined. And in direct observations of servals killing prey animals, rodents made up 90% of the victims.

Also like the domestic cat, in this instance, the serval likes to eat grass and Mel and Fiona Sunquist say they like to do it because it might aid in their digestion or it might act as an emetic.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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