Pet serval is like a domestic cat on steroids

Serval living in an apartment wants to escape
Serval living in an apartment wants to escape. Screenshot.
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It is distressing to learn once again of another pet serval escaping. This time a man who appears to be in his 30s living in an apartment adopted a serval. I am sorry but he is living in a standard apartment and he thinks it is okay to have a pet serval.

It is simply impractical to do what this man tried to do. And I don’t want to be critical of the guy because he innocently adopted a serval as an apartment pet cat which isn’t going to work.

I believe that he lives in Decatur, Georgia, USA. The state of Georgia, on my research, makes it illegal to own a serval as an exotic pet unless you have a license. It’s strange that the man allowed himself to be interviewed by local television channel resulting in the video below on the presumption that he does not have a license.

Serval kept as a pet in an apartment was bound to end in disaster and it did. The animal escaped and is on the loose.

If he has done something wrong and this appears to be criminally wrong, he shouldn’t be publicising it. Perhaps he had to because he needed help to find the escaped serval.

An expert who spoke about it said that owning a serval as an exotic pet is like owning a domestic cat on steroids. Good description. The same description was given by Ken Flick on Dallas, Texas when he adopted a jungle cat crossed with a domestic cat: a Chausie. They are just too excitable, energetic and intelligent. They are too big and too difficult to handle unless you have the money, expertise and the facilities to do so.

There are so many examples of pet servals escaping from homes that they are too numerous to mention here but see the articles at the base of this page. It happens all the time because the space allowed in an apartment or even a house far too small for a serval. They have a home range which could be 20 km². And people expect them to live in an apartment of a couple of thousand square feet.

The serval that escaped. Screenshot.

It is unfeasible and servals are pretty smart and they will find a way to escape if and when they can. In this instance somebody left the front door open and the serval trotted out into the urban environment where they will probably be terrified and local residents are likely to be terrified as well when they see the animal.

This, as you might expect, can lead to harm coming to the cat either from a local resident taking matters into their own hands and perhaps shooting the animal or the local authority stepping in to help capture it.

But the guy in the video said that it’s very hard to capture these animals once they escape. They just hide and lurk around the environment. And it will be difficult for a serval to survive in an urban environment. If there’s countryside nearby then perhaps they can move into that and live off the land so to speak.

The serval normally preys upon small mammals such as rodents so they may be able to survive on their own for a while before somebody picks the animal up or kills it.

In the past they been run over by cars or shot at. The owner needs somebody with good expertise to find the serval and then perhaps tranquilize or trap them and take them to a professional facility, perhaps a zoo, where they can live out their lives safely.

No matter how you slice or dice the problem it always comes out bad because the starting point is so bad: the pet serval. Another point: they are often declawed which is cruel and it makes survival in the wild much harder.

I have a feeling that this man thought that he would be adopting a very large domestic cat weighing about 30 kg. I don’t think he really understood what he was taking on. You can’t really cuddle them and pet them like domestic cats. They have big teeth and big claws. And their mentality is not geared up to being cuddled. They are not domesticated. They might be tame and be somewhat acclimatised to being around people. That is certainly the case in this instance but they are not truly domesticated as we know the term to mean.

This particular serval looks quite small and may have been a subadult or perhaps a small female but they can do some serious damage if they become aggressive with their owner. The serval can be quite intimidating. You can’t really relax in their presence normally. You might have occasions when they are sleeping and things are going quite well but I don’t think a serval would enhance a person’s home as a pet which is the whole purpose of having a companion animal.

There is more below the illustrated links..

What makes a serval a bad pet?

Here’s a little checklist on why servals don’t make good pets unless the person is an expert and has the facilities and the time to do the process of caregiving justice.

Size and physical attributes

This is a medium-sized wild cat which is much larger than a domestic cat. Visually, they appear to be about five times larger than a domestic cat because they’re very tall with long legs. They can be about 2 feet or more at the shoulder and weigh up to 40 pounds or even more on occasions. The long, lanky body confirmation is designed to enable them to be great hunters. They leap high into the air and land on small prey animals to crush them. There size alone make them difficult to handle and potentially dangerous.

Wild instincts

This is an inherently wild animal with strong natural instincts including a strong prey drive. They are skilled hunters. If people think domestic cats are good hunters and sometimes keen hunters, the serval will put them into the shade. You can’t suppress these instincts and you can’t train it out of them. As a result they may exhibit aggressive behaviours towards people and other animals. They can be unpredictable particularly when confined to a small space which they find irritating and which may drive them to aggression. Even in play a serval might be dangerous.

Specialised needs

They have specific needs in terms of diet and space. You should feed them a specially prepared raw diet. Not many people can do that adequately. There will be many instances of people owning a pet serval who fall short in providing them with the correct diet. This can lead to ill health and even the death of the animal.

They need particular mental stimulation through hunting and playing and meeting these requirements will be very challenging in a typical home environment.

Legal and ethical concerns

I’ve mentioned above that in Georgia keeping an exotic packed like a serval is illegal. In many of America’s states, the serval will be illegal or a person can keep the animal under licence. And as a licensee they will be inspected and checked by the authorities. It’s not easy.

And of course there are ethical implications. The serval should be in the wild behaving naturally. They shouldn’t be pets. They are not bred to be pets. They will be uncomfortable as a pet. You can see some of the ethical issues.

Lifespan and commitment

A serval might live as long as 20 years in captivity. This represents a very long commitment and responsibility for the caregiver. How many people have that amount of time and money to care for a difficult animal for 20 years? As mentioned they need specialist resources and dedication because they have complex needs. Think about veterinarian bills. How many vets have the expertise to treat a serval?

As a consequence, it is generally recommended that servals be left in their natural habitat or if captive that they be kept in specialised facilities dedicated to their care and conservation.

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