Serval in the fields
Serval. Photo: Michael Despines

Serval is an African cat of the wild, belonging to the genus Leptailurus and species serval. The serval have legs that are relatively long for its small body and ability, in spite of its slender build, to prey on larger hoofed mammals. It is called Ìjàkùmò in the Yoruba language. The serval, is like most members of the felidae (cat) family, solitary and nocturnal. Like a petted, eating or relaxed domestic cat, the serval, with an etymology linked to the Portuguese word meaning “wolfdeer”, produces a purring sound. The serval is native to Africa, and is considered the ancestor of the common domestic cats of today. It is highly valued for traditional medicine in Nigeria, and they are in the South West, among the most commonly offered mammalian species in the market.

Servals found in Nigeria belongs to the subspecies brachyuran. Except for the dimorphism in size, males and females are alike. Males weigh between 9 and 18kg, and body length is about 60 cm. This subspecies has a small, delicate head, long neck and a narrow face dominated by enormous, oval ears which it uses to scan vegetation for sounds of prey. The ears are black on the back with a distinctive white spot, and the tail has 6 or 7 black rings and a black tip. The coat color is pale yellow and it is distinguished from the Algerian subspecies, constantina, by possession of large spots that tend to merge into longitudinal stripes on the neck and back, or of numerous small spots, which give a speckled appearance. It produces a high-pitched chirp, hiss, cackl, growl, grunt, and meow sounds.

Gestation period is for about 11 weeks afterwhich 2 or 3 kittens is produced, some of who, if left in the wild, may live for up to 10 years if unaffected by the human encroachment on territory which leads to highway accidents.

Tope Apoola
Profession: Writer