For months, a Missouri farmer had glimpsed an elusive, “crazy-looking” cat sneaking onto his property — too large to be a house cat and with a build that rules out the bobcat.
The farmer recently captured the tan and spotted feline using a trap, according to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, likely saving its life.
“She’s definitely escaped somewhere,” a member of the wildlife refuge said in a January 24 video shared on social media. “This little African serval has been left to fend for itself.”
The Arkansas-based shelter, which specializes in caring for big cats and other exotic breeds, learned of the captured serval and traveled to Ava, Missouri, to take custody.
Feathers scattered among a stack of hay bales have revealed the serval’s burrow, video shows.
He survived on birds and mice, but rescuers doubt his luck would have lasted much longer.
The serval was out of its element and roamed the Midwest, especially in the dead of winter.
Part of his tail was frozen and needed to be removed, the shelter said. Fleas infested her fur and one of her paws became infected, requiring an operation.
“With the infection and how bad it was… it would probably have been only a matter of weeks before he succumbed,” said a staff member. “She’s lucky to be alive.”
Weighing in at 29 pounds, the serval is about three times heavier than the average house cat and is estimated to be around five years old, about a quarter of its normal lifespan, according to the shelter. (Warning: This link contains video of a serval surgery.)
While servals are by no means domesticated, there is still a market for them as pets.
“These feral cats aren’t much larger than an average sized dog, but they still retain their feral instincts and are astute escape artists,” according to the SPCA. “They are difficult to contain in a house or enclosure and pose a risk to their keepers and the public, and even native wildlife if they escape.”
Often, people who try to keep servals as pets regret the decision and let them go free, said Turpentine Creek Refuge President Tanya Smith.
“We’re seeing a group of these animals being let loose across the country,” Smith said. “(People) will catch them and release them because they’re scared of them most of the time.”
It’s unclear where this particular serval came from — whether it escaped from a breeder or someone’s home — but the shelter plans to care for the cat for the rest of its life, Smith said.
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