FOOTHILL FELINES SAVANNAHS
The Serval Cat
Diet and Hunting Techniques
The African Serval
DIET AND HUNTING TECHNIQUES:
When hunting their rodent prey, servals move slowly and carefully through the tall grass listening intently with their large and ultra-sensitive ears and sophisticated hearing capabilities for any movement which might indicate a small rodent. They are patient hunters, and may wait for long periods if there is wind. Because of their long legs and relative height, their sensitive ears can accurately determine the location of their potential victims. Once located, the prey is then stunned or killed instantly when the serval leaps with all four feet off the ground and hits its victim with its forefeet. If the initial attack is not successful, the serval will usually then make a series of quick stiff-legged jumps to kill their prey. Servals are well known for their athletic ability and agility, and nowhere is this better demonstrated than when the serval makes its characteristic high leap to strike its prey with an impact that will prevent the prey animal from escaping into thick vegetation. This leap or pounce may span 1 to 4 meters; servals also will leap straight into the air up to 10 feet off the ground to capture birds and insects with their paws.
Servals can detect prey underground and have shown keen intelligence by digging holes in mole rat tunnels, then sitting back patiently to wait until the mole rat comes out to repair the damage to its home, at which time the hunter/serval then fishes it out. Servals also hunt in shallow water and will stalk and catch frogs, fish, and wading birds. Another hunting technique effectively used by servals is to use their long legs to run and leap in a zig-zag pattern through the tall grass with high bounces to flush out their prey from any protective cover. Servals can achieve very high speeds in short bursts.
Generally, adult servals spend about 6 hours out of every 24 hours hunting and travelling. It is not uncommon for a serval to kill 16 times or more in a single day. Servals have an extremely high ratio of success -- 50% -- with their hunting attempts (vs. lions, who have a success ratio closer to 30%, and most species of cats, which are successful in their hunt only one out of every 10 times). The serval's preference for rodent prey would seem to actually be quite beneficial to local farmers who share their habitat; it has been estimated that an adult serval will eat some 4,000 rodents a year. Servals do require a fresh kill and will eat a wide variety of prey including rodents, small ungulates, birds, lizards, frogs and insects. They will also hunt hares, ground squirrels, snakes, mole rats, quail, flamingoes, quelea and teal. More than 90% of the serval's prey weighs less than two percent of the average body weight of a female, which is obviously a major reason why servals must hunt frequently. Servals sometimes encounter competition when hunting their prey from another small wild cat, the caracal. Both the serval and the caracal are opportunistic hunters.
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