Escaped Chicken-Eating Serval Cat Spotted in Neighborhood Backyards

A search is on for what is believed to be a serval cat in North County, California. However, this isn't a typical search for a companion pet. It is illegal to own a serval cat without a permit in California.

Bruce Ireland told Newsweek that he saw a post on the website Nextdoor from a woman who took several photos of the cat named Pharaoh. These cats are native to Africa and are known for their spotted fur.

CBS8 reported that Kristi Clark spotted the cat, but she wasn't sure what it was at first. She was with her daughter and grandchildren on Friday when her daughter's dog was startled near the bushes. Her neighbor later sent her a photograph of a serval in his yard and told her it ate one of his chickens. The cat came back another three times.

"What was interesting was that there were more than 100 comments about it, but no one offered to help," Ireland said.

Ireland primarily moves snakes from people's homes but said he's learned a great deal about what he can do to successfully trap Pharaoh since he offered to help last Tuesday. He's spoken with and collaborated with various wildlife agencies, including Project Wildlife, a branch with the San Diego Humane Society.

He said he has received advice on how best to trap an animal that doesn't want to be trapped.

"If I get a viable sighting, I'll deploy a large cage and bait it with either frozen or thawed chicken, maybe some fish," Ireland said. "I'll try to calm him down when he's in the cage by covering it with a blanket."

One of the most vital things he said he learned is that he needs to use a new cage without any scent so that it doesn't drive Pharaoh away.

Serval Cat
A cat believed to be a serval is on the loose in California, but several agencies are currently searching for it. The cats are known for their spotted fur and are native to Africa. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

He said he believes Pharaoh weighs roughly 35 pounds since he escaped from his home and is about two feet tall.

Trapping Pharaoh is just the first step. If Ireland is successful, the cat must be sent out to get blood work done to determine the exact breed. Though he believes Pharaoh is a serval cat, it's important to confirm the breed.

If Pharaoh is successfully caught and the bloodwork determines that he is a serval cat, he may be relocated.

Emily Schultz, one of the owners, told CBS8 that her husband and his mother bought Pharaoh four years ago from a breeder in Mississippi. She said they were under the impression that the cat was an F-1 Savannah, which is a hybrid of a serval and a domesticated cat. Ireland told Newsweek that Pharaoh lived in the home since he was purchased at six months old.

According to the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, serval cats do not make good pets. They keep their wild instinct and are difficult to keep in a house. In the event that a serval cat that was kept as a pet escapes from the house, they are in danger of starving because they did not properly learn how to hunt. They are also at risk of getting hit by a car in a neighborhood.

Ireland said he has gotten numerous calls from people who said they may have seen Pharaoh, and told Newsweek that he believes the cat traveled at least six to seven miles away from his home. At this point, Ireland continues to monitor the locations where the cat was potentially spotted and is following up on possible leads.

Contributed Serval Cat Pic
A photo sent to Bruce Ireland, who is currently tracking the loose serval cat in California. If captured, the cat could be relocated. Courtesy of Bruce Ireland