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Serval (Leptailurus serval) Fact Sheet: Reproduction & Development


Courtship behavior (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

  • Partners remain close when female is in estrus
    • Male and female may stay together for duration of the female's 1-4 day estrus
  • Signals of female receptivity
    • Purring vocalization
    • Rubs body, chin, and cheeks against the male
    • Solicits male by lowering the chest and raising the hindquarters

Copulation (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)

  • Male mounts from behind
    • He bites the nape of her neck



  • May give birth twice a year, in excellent habitats


  • Duration
    • 1-4 days (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)
  • Signs of estrus
    • Female utters short, sharp meows
      • These are repeated frequently

Gestation and Birth


  •  c. 74 days (Wackernagel 1968)


  • Seasonal timing
    • Often c. 1 month before peak periods of prey density  (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)
  • Location of partutition
    • Den in dense vegetation or unused aardvark or porcupine burrow (Sunquist & Sunquist 2002)
  • Litter size
    • 1-3 typically; up to 5 on rare occasions
  • Newborn characteristics(Wackernagel 1968)
    • Blind
    • Weigh c. 250 g (about 9 oz)
    • Soft woolly coat; more gray than in adults (Smithers 1983)
    • Ears folded, but unfold and grow rapidly (Kingdon 1977)

Interval between births

  • c. 184 days (Wackernagel 1968)

Life Stages

Infant (< 1 year old)  (from Sunquist & Sunquist 2002 unless otherwise noted)

  • Care
    • Provided by mother
      • Mother brings food to den after 1 month
        • Her hunting is restricted to smaller areas (than normal) when with kittens
  • Development
    • Eyes open 9-13 days
    • Weaning at about 4-5 months (Leyhausen 1990)
    • Young get adult canines at 6 months
    • Begin hunting for themselves around 6-7 months


  • Become independent c. 1 year
    • Most young are chased away by mom
    • Newly independent young may be tolerated in mother's home range for one year and longer
      • Daughters tolerated longer than sons


  • Sexual maturity
    • 12-24 months.


In managed care

  • Survive up to 20 years

In the wild

  • c.10 years



  • In the wild
    • Killed by leopards, African hunting dogs, and spotted hyenas (Leyhausen 1990)

Serval Kitten

a Serval cub

Serval are born blind with a soft, woolly coat. The eyes open within the first 2 weeks of life. Individuals such as this five-week old Serval born at the San Diego Zoo are beginning to develop adult canine teeth and their mothers' have started the weaning process.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Kingdon (1977)
Leyhausen (1990)
Smithers (1983)
Sunquist & Sunquist (2002)
Wackernagel (1968)

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