Hunting Serval in Africa
The serval (Leptailurus serval) is a beautifully-spotted medium-sized wild cat closely related to the caracal and African golden cat. An adult male weighs about 20 to 40 pounds with a shoulder height between 21 and 26 inches. The female is smaller at 15 to 26 pounds and is not as tall as the male. Hunting serval in Africa requires the services of a skillful guide who has hunted serval many times before. Servals have the longest legs in relation to their body size of any cat. Its toes are elongated and unusually mobile, which aids in hunting underground prey.
The serval’s main habitat is the savanna, although melanistic individuals are usually found in mountain terrain up to 10,000 feet in elevation. The serval needs access to water, so it lives near a permanent water supply. However, it does not inhabit jungles, but it can be found along the edge of the bush. Servals can swim and climb, but seldom do. The cat is widely distributed in the sub-Saharan savannas. Servals are nocturnal cats, primarily to avoid encounters with larger predators. Their diet consists mainly of rodents, but they also feed on birds, rabbits, hyraxes, reptiles and just about anything that’s smaller than them and a good source of protein. Some small prey are eaten whole; with larger prey, small bones are chewed up, but organs, beaks, hooves, and other hard parts are discarded. Servals make good use of their long legs when hunting. They can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. Their hearing is so keen that they can even hear prey that is burrowing underground. They can jump up as much as ten feet to catch birds in flight.
The serval is extremely intelligent, and is capable of solving complex problems, which means outwitting its prey fairly easy. It will sometimes play with its captured prey, not unlike the common house cat. It will defend its food ferociously against theft by other predators. Males are usually more aggressive than females.
Serval are available to hunt in South Africa, but even if you spot one while on a hunt, you can’t go hunting serval in Africa without a special permit. In South Africa, you must have a special Threatened or Protected Species permit (TOPS) before you can hunt serval. There are good populations of serval in both Kwazulu-Natal and in the Free State. Recent changes to permitting procedures in Kwazulu-Natal has made permitting a serval hunt more rigorous. This permit must be with you before you hunt. If you don’t have a permit for hunting serval in Africa, your trophy won’t be granted an export permit. Even if someone says it’s all right to hunt the serval, and you can get a permit after you are a success at hunting serval in Africa, don’t do it. Obtain the permit first.
The best areas to hunt serval in South Africa are in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Free State and KwaZulu Natal. If you plan on hunting an area that has serval, and think you would like to take one, ask your outfitter to apply for a permit in advance.
Namibia requires a special permit for hunting serval in Africa, which can be obtained by the outfitter before the hunt. Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Botswana, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia also allow hunting serval in Africa, but again, you must buy the permit in advance.
Still hunting is one of the methods used for hunting serval in Africa. Servals are attracted to cleared fields due to the presence of mice in the crops. In South Africa, it’s legal to hunt serval at night with a spotlight, providing the hunter has a night hunting permit. In Zimbabwe, a permit is also required to night hunt for serval. Also legal is using dogs when hunting serval in South Africa. Tanzania and Namibia forbid hunting serval with dogs.
A suggested caliber for hunting serval in Africa would be the .222 with an expanding bullet. Any rifles in the 22 caliber centerfire calibers are suitable for small cat hunting as long as you have a solid bullet. A medium-range variable scope would be perfect. Expect to take fleeting shots at close to medium range in mixed cover.