071421_MNS_serval_cat_003 serval

This serval, a large exotic cat native to Africa, went into a family’s home in Atlanta’s historic Brookhaven community before escaping.

A serval, a large cat native to Africa, is on the loose in Atlanta after entering a home and jumping on a woman’s bed while she slept.

On June 30 at about 6:45 a.m., Kristine Frank, who lives in historic Brookhaven, was awakened when the serval appeared on her bed. Her husband David woke up earlier and had let their dog Sandy, who has an invisible fence collar, out. As in previous days, left the door open so Sandy could come back in when she wanted to.

“I felt something jump on my bed, and I opened my eyes and it was a large cat on my bed,” Kristine said. “… I didn’t realize how big it was at the time, but it did jump off the bed. It was terrifying. When I looked, it was as tall as my bed, so I could see its head and ears. That’s when I knew it was not a normal house cat. I just froze and yelled for my husband. I said, ‘That’s not a cat and I don’t know what it is.’”

David then came into the bedroom and “locked eyes” with the serval, she said, and he told her to slowly get out of the bed and leave the bedroom. Once she did, he exited the room an closed the door. David then went around to the back of the house, where a door from the bedroom leads out to a deck, and opened that door to let the serval out.

As the cat exited the bedroom onto the deck and went down the deck stairs to the back yard, it hissed at David, who later took pictures of it.

“At this point I didn’t feel threatened because she was outside the doorway, but it was still aggressive in its reaction,” he said. “At that point she then proceeded, for four or five seconds, and (we made) eye contact again. She then continued down the stairway to the base of the stairs.”

After staying in the back yard for another minute or two, the serval ran off into the woods, but it returned about 20 minutes later to the front yard when Sandy was coming back inside.

“The dog … comes trotting back in, and behind her the cat has come back and is on the property on the front of the house 25 or 30 feet away. … The lack of intimidation was a big concern,” said Kristine, who thought the serval might be a bobcat.

After posting online some photos of the serval on Nextdoor, a neighborhood social media website and app, she also called her daughter Bailey, who’s a legal intern for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a California-based nonprofit that aims to protect all animals from harm, including wildlife, to find out what type of cat it is. Kristine also called the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, which is trying to capture the serval and then take it to an animal sanctuary in North Carolina.

According to petful.com, a serval is a cat native to the African grasslands mainly south of the Sahara Desert. It has long legs and a slender body. Alicia Prygoski, senior legislative affairs manager with the fund, said servals are normally 30 to 40 pounds but are not domesticated large cats.

“They are wild, fast, strong (and) very adept hunters, so this again goes to show they are not meant to be in private homes,” she said “They’re meant to be in the wild or accredited sanctuaries because private homes are not an adequate environment for those cats to live in. Thankfully, no one was injured but what if there was a child in the home or a pet?”

Though the serval’s owner has not been identified yet, Kristine said another resident nearby recently posted a message on Nextdoor about another time the serval escaped, It was eventually corralled in a neighbor’s garage.

There are no federal laws against owning large exotic animals, including exotic cats, but a Georgia law bans individuals from owning them unless they have a special license. The same goes for hybrid cats, which are exotic felines bred with domestic ones.

A proposed federal law, the Big Cat Public Safety Act (House Resolution 263), would prohibit individuals from owning large cats such as servals, lions and tigers, plus even hybrids. It was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last year but not by the Senate, so it must be passed by both chambers this year before being signed into law by the president.

Kristine and Prygoski said exotic cats should not be kept as pets.

“Any species of wild cat is not meant to live in a home,” Prygoski said. “We need stronger laws at the local, state and federal levels regulating the possession of wild cats and prohibiting pet ownership of wild cats.”

Kristine added, “I really don’t know what kind of cat it is, but whatever it is, it is definitely not a house pet I would expect anyone in a neighborhood to have that’s rooming around loose. I don’t want anything bad to happen to the cat – it belongs in a sanctuary, not a house.”

In a July 1 email, Mark McKinnon, spokesman for the DNR’s law enforcement division, said the agency has “received reports of it, and we are actively trying to trap the animal,” adding it hopes to corral the serval by July 2.

“We have only received a few (less than 5) reports of sightings. ... The cat has likely been someone’s pet (illegally) and should not be dangerous to anyone unless it is cornered or provoked," he said.

Anyone who sees the serval is asked to call the DNR’s law enforcement headquarters at 770-918-6408.

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