Atlanta, GA

"That's Not a House Cat!"

Hunter Cabot

Escaped African Wild Cat Joins Atlanta Woman in Bed
An African Serval is Loose in Atlantaphoto by Jitze Couperus on Flickr - Creative Commons license

It started out like any other morning for David and Kristine Frank.

On June 30, David awoke first and let their dog, Sandy, out into the yard of their Brookhaven home, on the outskirts of Atlanta. The Franks have an invisible fence, so David left the door ajar so the dog could return when she was ready.

At 6:45 Kristine Frank woke when she felt something jump onto the bed. Opening her eyes, she was startled to find an immensely large spotted cat had joined her and was staring back at her, just feet away. As she tried to clear her sleep-fuddled mind, the cat jumped to the floor, and that's when reality hit.

Though it was on floor level, the cat's head and ears were visible above the height of the mattress. This was no ordinary housecat.

She yelled for her husband David, who immediately appeared at the bedroom doorway.

"That's not a cat... I don't know what it is!" - Kristine Frank to her husband, as reported by The Neighbor

David immediately saw the seriousness of the situation and told Kristine to move slowly, and leave the bedroom. As soon as she did, David quickly shut the door, trapping the exotic cat inside.

He then crossed the yard to the back deck and opened the bedroom/deck door, hoping the cat would exit. It did, hissing at David as it left.

The Franks watched as it wandered in the yard for a few moments before disappearing. David snapped a few photos.

The cat was back twenty minutes later, as they opened their front door to let the dog back in. They spotted the serval in the front yard, only twenty feet away.

Kristine Frank posted photos on the NextDoor app (a neighborhood social media site), and that's when she learned this wasn't the first time the large exotic cat had escaped its owner in her neighborhood. There was a report of another neighbor who had previously encountered the same large cat and trapped it in their garage.

The Franks discovered their unexpected visitor was a serval, a wild cat native to Africa. Servals have lean, graceful bodies and long legs. Their height can reach two feet at the shoulder, and they can weigh up to forty pounds. They have the longest legs of any cat relative to their body size. In the wild, their prey primarily consists of rodents, frogs and birds.

Although there are no federal laws banning exotic animals as pets, Georgia state law does prohibit the keeping of any exotic animal without a special license, including large cats.

A federal law has been proposed, named the Big Cat Public Safety Act (House Resolution 263), which would prohibit individuals from owning large cats such as servals, lions and tigers, as well as hybrids (exotic cats bred with domestic cats). The law passed in the House in 2020, but failed to pass in the Senate.

The Franks reported the sighting to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, who is now trying to trap the serval. If successful, the cat will be transported to an animal sanctuary in North Carolina.

Mark McKinnon, spokesman for the DNR’s law enforcement division, made the following statement on Thursday, July 1.

We have received reports of it, and we are actively trying to trap the animal...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." - Mark McKinnon , Department of Natural Resources

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

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