Servaline Genets (Genetta servalina): Ringtails of Central East and West Africa

by DerdriuMarriner

Genets look like housecats with pointed fox faces, short mongoose limbs, and striped raccoon tails. Their spotted bodies recall leopards. But servaline genets seem more lynx-like.

Appearances sometimes are accurate. They also can be deceiving.
• For example, scientists conjecture that the combination of spots and stripes is nature's warning to potential predators of the possible prey's disagreeable taste and unpleasant odor.

Even though the flesh's taste is unaffected by the fur's discreet muskiness, genets -- whose bodies are spotted and tails striped -- have scent glands indeed capable of:
• Communicating information;
• Delivering stinkbombs;
• Marking territory.

At the same time, a genet's spotted body may suggest a leopard's aggressiveness or -- in the case of servaline genets -- a lynx's ferociousness.
• But genets in general and servaline genets in particular minimize violent interactions.
• They refrain from inflicting protracted suffering to enemies, prey, and rivals.

closeup of head and neck of adult male Genetta servalina (No. 51559), American Museum of Natural History:

total length of specimen: 1035 mm.; collected on November 28, 1913, at Niapu, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Plate XV, Fig. 1
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Plate XV, Fig. 1

 

Behaviors, bio-geographies, genetics, and physiques account for the species within a genus. Servaline genets belong to the genet genus Genetta. The genus name brings in the French spelling genette of the original Arabic designation jarnait for the amiable, beautiful, cautious, domesticable, elusive, fast, graceful spotted-and-striped mammal in question. Servaline genets claim sole membership in the genet species servalina. The species name comes from constructing the modern Latin term servalina from:

  • The Portuguese designation lobo cerval for lynx (Felis serval);

  • The Latin suffix -ina for “of, pertaining, or relating to.”

Modern taxonomy's binomial (“two-name”) requirements demand a genus and species for all officially described organisms. As with servaline genets, they may be expanded to accommodate subspecies.  

 

 

Servalines articulate 5 subspecies. G.s. servalina – of Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Sudan – comes from French zoologist Jacques Pucheran (June 2, 1817 – January 13, 1895) in 1855. The nominate (“first-to-be-named”) joins:

  • G.s. archeri of Zanzibar per Belgian veterinarian Harry van Rompaey (April 5, 1936 – February 2, 2007) and French biologist Marc Colyn in 1998;

  • G.s. bettoni of Burundi, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, and Uganda per British zoologist Michael Rogers Oldfield Thomas (February 21, 1858 – June 16, 1929) in 1902;

  • G.s. lowei of Tanzania per Tanzanian zoologist Jonathon Kingdon in 1977;

  • G.s. schwarzi of Burundi, Congo, and Rwanda per Portuguese mammalogist João Crawford-Cabral in 1970.   

Oldfield Thomas applied his zoological genius and sensitivity to identifying and naming servaline subspecies, Genetta servalina bettoni, in 1902:

portrait bequeathed by Oldfield Thomas to London's Natural History Museum
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)
oil on canvas by John Ernest Breun (1862-1921)

 

Bio-geographical and corporeal subtleties differentiate the servaline genet's subspecies. All servalines nevertheless exhibit super-spotted, tawny upper-sides with:

  • Broken, dark, shoulders-to-tail-base, mid-dorsal line crossed longitudinally by a tawny stripe;

  • Dark lower limbs;

  • Dark-backed outer upper limbs with spots forming fragmented horizontal lines;

  • Dark-haired soles;

  • Orange-yellow-brown to orange-yellow-grey under-sides.

The bright-tipped, cylindrical tail has:

  • A dark stripe subtly smudging the top-side longitudinally;

  • 9 – 11 bright rings less than 20% wider than correspondingly dark stripes.

The head includes:

  • Alert, rounded ears;

  • Big, dark-adapted, rounded eyes;

  • Dark, thin chin line;

  • Tapered muzzle with fine, super-sensory whiskers.

    It tops a yellow throat framed by stripes from the ears downward.   

 

 

Servaline life cycles and natural histories elude scientists. Servalines historically fit Smithsonian National Natural History Museum mammalogist Dr. Kristofer Helgen's conferring ghost status to museum-only skins and skulls. But camera-trapping gives real-time to:

  • Lowe's servalines in Tanzania's Udzungwa range in 2000 and Nguru and Uluguru ranges in 2002;

  • Wildlife consultant Tony Archer's servalines in Zanzibar's Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park in 2003.

 Data and mature specimens indicate: 

  • Head-and-body lengths: 17.52 – 20.08 inches (445 – 510 millimeters);

  • Paw lengths: 2.76 – 3.15 inches (70 – 80 millimeters);

  • Tail lengths: 13.78 – 17.32 inches (350 – 440 millimeters);

  • Tail-hair lengths: 0.79 - 1.18 inches (20 – 30 millimeters);

  • Weights: 4.41 – 6.61 pounds (2 – 3 kilograms).

  

Genetta servalina: left feet of adult male (specimen No. 51559), American Museum of Natural History ~

A=palmar surface, left fore foot; B=plantar surface, left hind foot. Natural size.
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 19, p. 129
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 19, p. 129

 

Scientists attribute to servalines:

  • Night-foraying couples or singles;

  • Non-overlapping territories for same-gender neighbors and overlapping for mixed;

  • Permanent dens in tree burrows or hollows;

  • Regular latrines;

  • Stress from predatory mammals, raptors, and reptiles;

  • Terrestrial forages as obligate carnivores (“flesh-eaters”) of small mammals and opportunistic omnivores (“everything-eaters”) of fruits, insects, and small reptiles.

They consider:

  • Physical and sexual maturity at 4 years;

  • Rain-season matings of April/May and September/October;

  • Twice-yearly litters of 1 grey-furred offspring whose ears and eyes open within 2 weeks and whose suckling by the mother's sole pair of teats precedes emancipation.

They suspect:

  • Generations of 7 years;

  • Life expectancies of 5 – 15 years.   

 

Genetta servalina: adult female (No. 51577), American Museum of Natural History ~

total length of specimen: 950 mm; collected on January 19, 1914, at Niapu, northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Plate XIV, Fig. 2
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Plate XIV, Fig. 2

 

Some genets favor rainforest-specific niches. The servaline genet is not among them. Servalines may frequent such varied forested and wooded habitats as:

  • Coral rag thickets;

  • Dry scrublands;

  • Forest-savannah mosaics;

  • Gallery and groundwater forests;

  • High-altitude bamboo forests;

  • Montane forests;

  • Primary and secondary-growth forested lowlands;

  • Rainforests;

  • Woodland savannahs.

Local anecdotes and scientific research place servalines at above-sea-level altitudes of:

  • 984.25 – 5,905.51 feet (300 – 1,800 meters);

  • 6,889.76 – 9,842.52 feet (2,100 – 3,000 meters);

  • 11,482.94 – 14,435.70 feet (3,500 – 4,400 meters).

They share bio-geographies with aquatic fish-eating (Genetta piscivora), giant forest (G. victoriae), king (G. poensis), rusty-spotted panther (G. maculata), and Schouteden's (G. schoutedeni) genets.  

 

Genetta servalina overlaps in Genetta victoriae's homelands in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda:

G. victoriae illustration by colonial administrator-explorer-linguist-naturalist Sir Harry Johnston (June 12, 1858-July 31, 1927), whose Genetta victoriae specimen was studied by Oldfield Thomas in his description and identification of Giant Forest Genet.
Oldfield Thomas, On the More Notable Mammals Obtained by Sir Harry Johnston (1901), Vol. II, Plate V, opp. p. 85
Oldfield Thomas, On the More Notable Mammals Obtained by Sir Harry Johnston (1901), Vol. II, Plate V, opp. p. 85

Conclusion: Can lovable, tawny Genetta servalina elude sustainability threats, especially from zealous hunters catering to demands for bushmeat and fashions (soft-furred bracelets, hats)?

 

Servaline genets answer to:

  • Kanu among Swahili-speakers;

  • Uhange (“red-colored”) and uchui or ushundwi (“leopard-like”) in Zanzibar.

They are renowned as:

  • Affectionately loyal pets;

  • Sources of soft-furred bracelets, hats, and loincloths and tasty bushmeat.

Their resource-rich homeland brims with:

  • Modernizing and tradition-bound interactions;

  • Urban-wildland interfaces.

Self-defense is inadequate despite:

  • Acute hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and touching;

  • Handstand-released stinkbombs;

  • Sharp incisors (12), canines (4), premolars (16), and molars (8);

  • Stand-up boxing;

  • Super-fast digitigrade (“on-the-digits,” “tiptoed”) ascents, descents, jumps, leaps, and runs;

  • 20 curved, retractable, super-sharp claws.

Sustainable futures require governmental protection, scientific research, and visitor support against:

  • Globally-warmed climate change;

  • Unrestrained agro-industrialism;

  • Zealous over-hunting.   

 

Genetta servalina: palatal view of adult male (No. 51567). Natural size.

J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 18, p. 128
J.A. Allen, Carnivora Collected by the American Museum Congo Expedition (1922-1925), Fig. 18, p. 128

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

 

Established in 2004 and located on Zanzibar Archipelago's main island of Unguja (also known as Zanzibar), Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park is Zanzibar's only national park.

Servaline genet subspecies Zanzibar Servaline Genets (Genetta servalina archeri), endemic to Unguja, reside in the park.
entrance to Jozani Forest, Zanzibar
entrance to Jozani Forest, Zanzibar

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Thomas, Oldfield. 1901. "On the More Notable Mammals Obtained by Sir Harry Johnston."Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (2): 85 - 90.

  • Available via Internet Archive at: https://archive.org/stream/proceedingsofzoo19012zool#page/85/mode/1up

Thomas, Oldfield. 1902. “A New Genet from British East Africa.” Annals and Magazine of Natural History 9(7):365-366.

  • Available at: http://biostor.org/reference/86773

Van Rompaey, H.; and Colyn, M. 1998. "A New Servaline Genet (Carnivora, Viverridae) from Zanzibar Island." South African Journal of Zoology 33:42–46.

Van Rompaey, H.; Gaubert, P.; De Luca, D.; Rovero, F.; and Hoffmann, M. 2008. "Genetta servalina." In: IUCN 2013. International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved May 20, 2014. 

  • Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/full/41700/0

Veron, Geraldine. 2010. “Phylogeny of the Viverridae and ‘Viverrid-like’ Feliforms.” Pp. 64-90 in Carnivoran Evolution: New Views on Phylogeny, Form and Function edited by Anjali Goswami and Anthony Friscia. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge Studies in Morphology and Molecules.

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Genetta servalina's human synecology: Freddie Mercury (September 5, 1946 - November 24, 1991):

Born into Zanzibar's Zoroastrian community in Stone Town (Swahili: Mji Mkongwe), Farrokh Bulsara rocked the entire world with his musical talents and 4-octave range under his stage name of Freddie Mercury, lead singer/lyricist for British rock band Queen.
Freddie Mercury in New Haven, CT, at a WPLR (99.1 FM) Show, November 1978
Freddie Mercury in New Haven, CT, at a WPLR (99.1 FM) Show, November 1978
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

Servaline genets' floral synecology ~ Twisted palm tree, Zanzibar: photo by Gavin Hellier

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle

Dhow Through Window, Zanzibar, Tanzania: stunning wall mural of photo by Peter Adams

Servaline genets' Zanzibar landscape: Dhow (Arabic داو dāw), traditional sailing vessels with one or more masts and triangular (lateen) sails, in Zanzibar Channel off Unguja's west coast or in Indian Ocean along east coast
Dhow Through Window, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 08/20/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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DerdriuMarriner on 05/24/2014

VioletteRose, Yes, certain genets are reminiscent of leopards but genets' various patterns are far more intricate than those of leopards.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/24/2014

Mira, Genets have beautiful patterning on their bodies and their lush ringtails. In addition to hunters killing them for fashion statements, they are also hunted as bushmeat and for ritualistic and/or medicinal purposes. Hunters who track and kill these elusive genets are quite chuffed with themselves for their successes.

VioletteRose on 05/24/2014

I agree they look much like leopards!

Mira on 05/24/2014

I can see why some people may want their fur, especially as these animals are so elusive, as you say. Is their fur a prized commodity?

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