Nothing Lesser about this Cat – March 2011

Shot of the Month – March 2011

While all felines are apex predators and rest comfortably at the top of the food chain, most of our attention and admiration go toward the “Big Cats” – lion, tiger, leopard, and jaguar.  These are the largest members of the feline family and they are the only ones that can roar.  Some folks add the snow leopard, mountain lion, and cheetah to the Big Cat list.  (For the record, none of these classifications have any scientific standing)

Then we have the 35 species of “lesser cats.”  A term I would find insulting if I was among this group as each of them is quite spectacular in their own, diminutive way.  The serval, as photographed here from Botswana, is one such wonder.

Servals are shy and normally out at night so they are rarely observed.  We found this one just as the sun was about to rise on a crisp morning in Botswana.  Given that servals only stand about 2-3 feet tall they are especially hard to see in tall grass.  That is however, unless they are hunting.

During one safari in Namibia I was slowly driving along when I heard the loud chatter of angry birds.  The clatter finally broke through my consciousness and I remembered that sounds can be an important tool in finding wildlife.  Why all the racket?  Why were these birds so upset?  I stopped the car and listened.  I followed the sound to the enraged birds and watched as they hovered above the tall grass.

BOING.  A serval exploded from the grass in an amazing vertical leap.  He leapt up and forward—most likely trying to land on an unsuspecting mouse.  BOING.  Another amazing vertical leap.  BOING…One of my favorite safari memories.  Ever.

Servals specialize in locating and eating rodents with their exceptional hearing and sight.  And with that amazing jumping ability.  Servals can use this skill to leap 10 feet into the air from a sitting position to catch birds in flight!  They also dine on fish, lizards, frogs, and insects.

And these cats are good at what they do.  Lions are only successful about 30% of the time when they hunt.  Serval hunting success rate is 50%.  Take that Big Cats!

The mighty serval –the Tigger of the savannah.

Until next month… 🙂