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Whether Siberian or room tiger: cat lovers love the grace that all velvet paws exude. The serval is not a pet, but a wild cat from the African savannah. In the following, we will introduce you to the Serval as the ancestor of a very modern but original cat breed, the Savannah.


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The African Savannahs

The Serval is not a cat breed, but a separate species: Leptailurus serval. The term “serval” probably comes from the Portuguese word for “lynx”. For cat lovers, this big cat is not only important as a wild animal that can be admired from afar: a modern cat breed descends from the Serval, which was named after the homeland of its ancestor: the Savannah. It was created in the late 1980s from crossing Siam with Serval. It is not a matter of course that the two species can reproduce. In the animal kingdom, hybrids are more often born with restrictions – one thinks, for example, of the mule, a cross between a horse and a donkey. Similar to this crossbreeding, the offspring of cats and servals are not all fertile: female offspring can have kittens, while males are sterile in the first generations. The Savannah quickly established itself as a particularly exotic, wild-looking cat breed and is now recognized. Unfortunately, as a “predatory descendant”, it has become an object of prestige for some.

For breeding it was necessary to keep Serval cats, to domesticate them, and to socialize with their small cat relatives. The original serval, on the other hand, feels most at home in the seemingly endless expanses of its African homeland: it is particularly common in the savannahs south of the Sahara. Here he lives as a loner outside of the mating season. The population is not considered to be endangered, but the range of the serval has been greatly reduced in the last few decades.


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Typical Wild Cat

Anyone who sees a serval immediately recognizes that it is not a house tiger. The big cat is more reminiscent of cheetahs or smaller relatives from the feline family such as the ocelot. With a shoulder height of 54 to 62 cm over a length of up to one meter, serval females weigh between nine and twelve kilograms. Male animals can weigh up to 18 kilograms. In relation to the rest of the body, the serval has the longest legs in the cat realm. Like other spotted big cats, the serval is adorned with a pattern of spots that serve as camouflage. However, it varies greatly from person to person and can consist of large or small spots. The head is noticeably small, which makes the serval ears appear even larger – in some specimens, the eavesdroppers are even reminiscent of bat ears. Overall, the whole body exudes the typical predatory grace and strength that we also know from the serval’s larger relatives.


As expected: the serval is wild! So wild that it usually cannot be domesticated. That is why a captive serval will always retain a certain shyness of humans. Domesticated servals can become tame in different ways. They live in human care from an early age, they play and cuddle with the two-legged friends they know, but their behavior is much more primal and wilder than a “normal” cat. They always seem alert and interested in everything around them. If they have been appropriately socialized when they are kittens, servals often live peacefully with other members of their own species. However, they are often too rough to live with domestic cats and can injure them unintentionally. After all, the animals sometimes bring three times their body weight, for example when they want to fight playfully.

Feeding a Serval

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In its African homeland, the serval sneaks up to its prey within a few meters and then overpowers it with great skill: it can not only jump far but also high and can even grab birds flying with its paws. Along with small rodents and rabbits, these are his favorite foods. If given the opportunity, he will also strike very young antelopes. In captivity, a serval should be fed fresh meat – it, therefore, requires an intensive discussion on the subject of barps. By the way, many breeders recommend feeding the savannah, which is descended from the serval, with raw meat. However, the pure meat menu is not enough in the long run: The cat’s body also needs vitamins and minerals, which is why special food supplements must be added. In short: It takes a lot of know-how to feed a serval. Health care also belongs in the hands of a veterinarian who has knowledge of wildlife.

Serval Breeding

Serval x Savannah

When breeding Savannah cats, the different physique presents breeders with challenges and cats with dangers. Because although they can reproduce, servals and domesticated cats are not “made for each other”: When mating, a physically superior male serval can dangerously injure a petite cat. And while a “normal” cat is pregnant for around 63 days, a serval female does not give birth to kittens until around ten days later. In a crossbreed, the pups can be born immature and often need human help if they are viable at all. If, on the other hand, a Serval cat carries out the hybrids after mating with what it sees as a small male, there is a risk that it will offend the tiny pups. After all, healthy Serval puppies weigh around 250 g at birth, but average cats only weigh 90 to 110 g. By the way: the male offspring of the crossbreed remain sterile for three generations.

Serval as a Pet?

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The beauty of this elegant, wild animal arouses desire, so that isolated lovers of exotic prestige objects on four paws would like to share their home with a serval. But the demands on his posture are extremely high. Even if you meet these, it remains questionable why an animal from the African savannah should live in a European enclosure – because the serval is not suitable for housing. The same applies to the immediate offspring. By the way: The offspring from a cross between a serval and a house cat also require approval for several generations in most countries.

Serval Keeping Laws and Wildlife Hybrids

In Germany, keeping a serval requires a permit and places special demands on the potential owner. This includes wildcat hybrids of the first generation. Up to generation F4, the offspring from a Serval cross in Germany are notifiable. This goes hand in hand with certain legal requirements for keeping. For example, a serval and its immediate offspring need an outdoor enclosure of at least 50 m². Similar but different rules apply in other countries. For example, Switzerland obliges keepers to keep both the Serval and his descendants from the first and second generations under appropriately generous conditions. There these animals have a legal right to a diversified outdoor enclosure of at least 30 m² and an indoor enclosure of at least 20 m². By the way, letting it roam freely is forbidden everywhere: The danger is too great that the serval will become independent and released into the wild in an uncontrolled manner.

So if you want to keep a serval or its immediate descendants, you first have to deal with the authorities. In addition, keepers should offer the serval a swimming opportunity so that he feels comfortable. In captivity, servals – like domestic cats – can reach an old age of 20 years and are on average more than twice as old as their free-living relatives.

This is Where You Can Find Serval Descendants: the Savannah

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Anyone who has fallen in love with the exotic and could imagine not having a serval but a Savannah move-in can count on a completely socialized house cat from the fourth or fifth generation onwards, which is not subject to any restrictions. Nevertheless, the breed is only suitable for people who want to keep a cat with a lot of pepper in their buttocks – and who can meet their high standards. The costs for these exotic-looking animals are still in the four-digit euro range, but they are many times more affordable than animals of the first generation: some of them are only available for the price of a new small car. For good reason: Keeping wildcat hybrids or even a serval requires not only financial resources but also a great deal of specialist knowledge. Another hybrid cat breed that emerges from wild cats in combination with Abyssinian cats is the Caracas: a cross between a domestic cat and a caracal. However, it is even rarer to find than the Savannah. If you don’t like it so exclusive, but still exotic, you should find out more about the Bengal cat.

Back to the Savannah as a serval in mini format: the extent to which the following generations resemble the long-legged serval varies. Anyone interested in keeping them should offer as much space as possible: a large apartment or, better still, a house with a secure garden. Many Savannah cats develop close bonds with their humans and always enjoy being around their owners. When playing games, they can be a bit rougher and more impetuous than other cats. That’s why it’s easiest to keep two Savannah cats at the same time so they can entertain each other in their own wild way. Keeping rather cozy cat breeds such as British Shorthair or Persian is less recommended, although experienced cat owners will recognize exceptions. Because you should bring cat experience if you want to give a Savannah a home. You should only buy a Savannah from a breeder who sells it with a pedigree. Breeding wild cat hybrids are very demanding and only belongs in the hands of experts.

We hope you enjoy your Serval offspring, the Savannah – or while looking at Serval pictures!

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