IUCN Serval Distribution Map
Interactive map of the Serval's range by the IUCN Red List

The Serval cat's (Leptailurus serval) natural range is restricted to Africa (endemic), where they have a wide distribution, inhabiting the wetter habitat throughout sub-Saharan Africa. They are absent from the central tropical rainforests and the deserts in the north and south west. Three subspecies of Serval are described across Africa.

Serval Distribution in Africa

Servals occur in 40 African countries across all five regions, but only marginally in North Africa.

List of African countries where Servals occur (IUCN Red List):

North Africa: Sudan, Morocco

West Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo

Central Africa: Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, DR Congo, Gabon

East Africa: Burundi; Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe

Southern Africa: Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland

Extinct: Southern part of South Africa (Southern Africa)

Possibly extinct: Algeria (North Africa)

Reintroduced: Tunisia (North Africa) and southern part of South Africa (Southern Africa)

Serval Subspecies

Historically there have been up to 18 subspecies of Serval, however the last taxonomic revision of the Felidae cat family in 2017 proposed only three subspecies, although further research is required:

Southern Serval - Leptailurus serval serval - Southern Africa

Western Serval - Leptailurus serval constantina - West and Central Africa

Eastern Serval - Leptailurus serval lipostictus - East Africa

For the full classification of this wild cat see Caracal Lineage - Leptailurus serval Classification.

Serval Subspecies

Serval in Grassland Habitat
Serval Hunting in Grassland Habitat

Serval Habitat

Serval cats are specialist carnivores that occur primarily in wetland habitat with long grasses in the vicinity of rivers and swamps. Even though their range is vast across most of Africa, Servals are only found in specific, suitable habitat patches within this broader distribution. Their most common habitat in Africa is moist grasslands.

The IUCN Red List has standardised habitat types globally and the following three types are of major importance for Servals (IUCN Red List):

  • Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Seasonally Wet/Flooded
  • Wetlands (inland) - Permanent Rivers/Streams/Creeks
  • Wetlands (inland) - Shrub Dominated Wetlands

The following vegetation types are also suitable:

  • Forest      - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
  • Savanna   - Dry
  • Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical Dry
  • Grassland - Subtropical/Tropical High Altitude

Where to see Serval Cats in Africa

All of the medium to smaller cats are very difficult to spot in the wild. Many are nocturnal or crepuscular and rarely seen during the day. The best chances are to visit the national parks or local nature reserves of each country within their distribution, and go on the early morning and late afternoon to evening game drives.

iNaturalist is a global citizen science platform where people can post their sightings of animals in the wild. Identification is verified by other members and subsequently conservationists and scientists use this data in their important work.

If you have been lucky enough to spot one of the smaller cats in your travels, no matter how long ago, please upload your images to the platform and thus help with research and conservation of this species.

Here are links to view the sightings that have recently been posted:

Southern Serval Observations

Western Serval Observations

Eastern Serval Observations

(Note there are also images of dead animals if you are a sensitive viewer.)

Another excellent resource if you are planning a trip to Africa is the Mammal Watching website. Here comprehensive trip reports and mammal lists are posted by travellers, focussing on observing the mammals of the world. Check out the trip reports listing Serval Cats (and some by scientific name) in their sightings checklist as well as some stunning photos.

Eastern Serval Cat (Leptailurus serval lipostictus)
iNaturalist Eastern Serval Observation Tanzania - © Dirk Froebel CC BY-NC

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