Over the weekend, a couple who live in Sooke on Vancouver Island took a picture of what appeared to be an African serval walking down the road. The picture was then posted to social media, cautioning other residents to stay alert.
Servals are medium-sized African cats with a shoulder height of up to 66 cm (26 inches) and males weighting up to 18 kg (40 lbs). Servals cost about $8,000, and due to their status as exotic animals, the rules of owning these cats are controlled by local governments. These regulations exist to prevent non-native animals from getting out and affecting the local environment.
The identity of the serval’s owner is unknown, as they have not reported the animal missing to the authorities. Local serval breeder Doug Nelson believes he might know who is responsible for the cat. He sold a serval to someone nearby, and the cat has a history of escaping from the owner’s home. Over the summer, the cat was missing for several weeks before it was captured and returned by the SPCA.
If this is indeed the cat Nelson sold to the Sooke resident, it should be wearing a tracking collar. All servals from Nelson are sold wearing such a collar in order to quickly retrieve them, should they escape.
“There’s no excuse for losing a serval and not notifying anybody,” Nelson told Katie DeRosa of the Times Colonist. “It’s actually illegal to set them free, we don’t want them out there.”
Though servals can be domesticated to be loving pets, they could revert back to their wild instincts if left out in the wild. There is no indication that they pose a threat to humans, as there have never been reported human injuries caused by servals in North America. However, the real threat comes with the serval needing to feed.
Servals naturally feed on small rodents, birds, and fish—similar to ordinary domestic cats who live outdoors—but if they become desperate, they may go after larger prey. Introducing a foreign predator to the area could potentially disrupt the balance of the local ecosystem.
“These are pets, they’re very friendly and affectionate cats,” Nelson continued. “They’re a non-aggressive cat but that changes if they’re out and they’re scared and they’re threatened.”
The serval is presumed to still be loose, though it is not known how long this cat has been outdoors and away from its owner. Residents in the area are urged to call British Columbia Conservation officials at 1-877-952-7277 if they see the animal, and should not try to approach it themselves.
UPDATE - 12/15/2014 9:13 a.m. MST: Sadly, the serval described in this article was struck and killed in Sooke on Monday afternoon. Peter Henry, the man driving the pickup that hit the cat, claimed that the serval jumped in front of his truck. He contacted local conservation authorities. The identity of the cat's owner is still unknown. -LW
[Via: Times Colonist]