Categories: wild cats

Popular domesticated serval “zoo ambassador” bites child at birthday party

This is a regrettable incident which concerns a domesticated serval whose name is Copper. Copper was hand-raised and brought to the Potawatomi Zoo when he was six months old as an education animal and is today aged four. He is thoroughly socialised to people and has “done thousands of interactions with people here at the zoo” (National Wildlife Association on Facebook).

Domesticated serval and zoo ambassador bites child at zoo party. Photo: National Wildlife Association on FB.

A request was made by the organisers of the party to have Copper in attendance. I suppose it was to add a bit of exoticism to the proceedings.

In a video (which I have been unable to find) a mother and her child approach the serval from behind and the child reaches out to pet the animal. It appears that the serval was caught unawares because of the approach from behind and suddenly his wild cat instincts came out and he quickly turned and lunged forward while simultaneously hissing loudly and then biting the child on the head. The photograph above shows the exact moment, which I believe is a screenshot from the video.

The child was not badly injured. We are told by the National Wildlife Association that the child suffered some minor scratches on his head. Of course it could have been much worse. In fact if the mother had complained there would have been a necessity to have killed the serval, cut off his head and conduct an autopsy on the cat’s brain to check for rabies. Thankfully this didn’t happen.

Investigation and possible reinstatement of role of ambassador

Copper is a wonderful ambassador for the zoo but his role in the program going forward is unknown as the events on the video are being investigated. The zoo does not want to retire him from the programme.

They say that he is the most popular animal and requested most often (source: Potawatomi Zoo Executive Director Marcy Dean). Apparently the protocol at the zoo for these sort of situations includes one person at one time touching the cat on the back and away from the mouth. This protocol appears to have been broken inadvertently. Space around the cat is also important and that also may have been a problem in this instance.

It would seem reasonably likely that sometime in the future, after the investigation, Cooper will be reinstated as an ambassador for the zoo. It would seem that the problem did not lie with the cat but with the management of the people at the party.


P.S. All the videos of domestic cats being terrified of cucumbers are due to the same reason. Cats caught by surprise can react instinctively and aggressively in defence. It is normal. Being thoroughly socialised and domesticated cannot be a guarantee to prevent this sort of reaction.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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