For months, a Missouri farmer had been catching glimpses of an elusive and “crazy-looking cat” sneaking around his property — too big to be a housecat, and with a build that ruled out bobcat.
The farmer recently captured the tan and speckled feline using a trap, according to the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, likely saving its life.
“She definitely escaped from somewhere,” a member of the wildlife refuge said in a Jan. 24 video shared on social media. “This little African serval was left to fend for herself.”
The Arkansas-based refuge, which specializes in caring for big cats and other exotic breeds, learned about the captured serval and went up to Ava, Missouri, to take custody.
Feathers scattered in between a stack of hay bales revealed the serval’s den, video shows.
It was surviving on birds and mice, but rescuers doubt its luck would’ve lasted much longer.
The serval was out of its element wandering the Midwest, particularly in the middle of winter.
A portion of its tail was frostbitten and had to be removed, the refuge said. Fleas infested its fur and one of its paws was infected, requiring an operation.
“With the infection and how severe it was … it would have probably just been a matter of a few weeks before she succumbed,” a staff member said. “She’s lucky to be alive.”
Weighing in at 29 pounds, the serval is about three times heavier than the average domestic cat, and estimated to be around five years old, about one-fourth of its normal lifespan, according to the refuge. (Warning: This link contains video of a surgical operation on a serval.)
While servals are in no way domesticated, there is still a market for them as pets.
“These wild cats are not much bigger than a medium-size dog, but they still retain their wild instincts and are cunning escape artists,” according to the SPCA. “They are difficult to contain in a home or enclosure setting, 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 set them loose, Turpentine Creek Refuge president Tanya Smith said.
“We’re seeing a bunch of these animals are being let loose all over the country,” Smith said. “(People will) get them and release them because they’re scared of them most of the time.”
It’s not clear where this particular serval came from — if it escaped from a breeder or someone’s home — but the refuge plans to care for the cat for the rest of its life, Smith said.