For cat lovers, the prospect of waking to find a feline has snuck into your bed could well be a very welcome one. That might change however if the feline in question was a serval (Leptailurus serval). This exact scenario recently unfolded in Atlanta, US, where a woman woke early one morning to find the large, exotic cat in her bed. Being endemic to countries across Africa, servals are not a species you expect to see in the state of Georgia, let alone wake up to find one mere inches from your face.
Speaking to CNN, Kristine Frank explained that it was quickly apparent that the bed-hopping cat burglar that jumped onto her bed just 15 centimeters (6 inches) from her face was no ordinary house cat. "I said, 'That's not a normal house cat. I don't know what that is, but I am terrified right now.
“Afterwards I was like, 'Was that a bobcat? Was it a leopard? Was it a baby? Was it a mom?"
Servals are medium-sized wild cats, usually reaching up to 60 centimeters (24 inches) at the shoulder, with long legs, and can jump up to 1.5 meters (5 feet) in the air. They also have spotted coats and the largest ears of any cat, usually to help them hunt by hearing tiny movements of prey in the long grass of Africa's savannas.
Fortunately, the incident didn’t result in injury to Frank or the serval, whose origin is unknown but is expected to be a pet belonging to someone in the local area. According to a report from WHSV3, Lt. Wayne Hubbard of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (GDNR) said that while the serval is probably a pet it is actually illegal to keep them in Georgia. As such, local authorities are working to trap the animal as it should not be returned to its owner nor allowed to live in the wild as a non-native, predatory species.
"When law enforcement is hopefully able to trap her we hope that she is then set to an accredited sanctuary where she can live out the rest of her life in an appropriate habitat," Animal Legal Defense Fund Senior Legislative Affairs Manager Alicia Prygoski told CNN.
"Wild cats are not meant for private possession. The wild cat trade in this country is really not well regulated, which results in many species of wild cats, including servals, living out their lives in private homes which are not adequate environments for the natural behaviors that they exhibit."
The experience was no doubt a frightening one for Frank, and while it’s not normal to encounter wild cats in suburban parts of America their impromptu appearances certainly have precedent. Earlier this year a tiger was spotted wandering the streets of Houston after escaping from its owner’s home. Videos shared on Twitter show the tiger almost coming to harm itself as it approaches someone pointing a gun at the animal. Tigers also aren’t permitted as pets in this part of the US, but it seems such sanctions often do little to dissuade people from keeping exotic cats as domestic pets.