Serval Caught In New Orleans

Posted by: Loren Coleman on February 19th, 2009

When Carl Henderson stepped into the backyard of his mother’s Uptown home Tuesday (February 17, 2009) at mid morning, he was checking out a neighbor’s report of raccoon playing about.

He found something quite different.

Henderson encountered what looked like a small cheetah, 22 pounds and lean, two feet tall in the arch of its back, a long tail, with black and brown spots. An intimidating, lovely feline in an unlikely spot.

“The spots and design on it, the natural nature thing,” the 58-year-old New Orleanian said later in the day, still flabbergasted at the mysterious find. “An artist couldn’t do that. It was a sight for the eyes.”

What he found resting in the shade was a female serval, a small African wildcat, the possession of which is illegal for private citizens in Orleans Parish, Audubon Nature Institute officials said.

Henderson’s first instinct was to call the cops, nervous that the wildcat might harm children in the vicinity. But before the law arrived, he somewhat boldly tried to befriend the cat.

He took it water, then slices of American cheese, then pieces of turkey wing.

The cat lapped up the offerings, but bared her teeth and hissed when he drew near.

“I guess I got a little bit too close to his perimeter, and I kindly gave him his respect and backed off,” Henderson said. He guessed that the cat’s relatively calm demeanor meant it was someone’s pet: “If it had been aggressive, it would have had my butt.”

The official response to Henderson’s 911 call was robust. A small crowd of police officers pulled up at his home in the 700 block of Jena Street, initially leery, he said, of stepping into the yard. An agent from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries came too, as did staffers from the Audubon Institute, which runs the zoo.

Henderson was shooed inside the house. Audubon’s veterinarian staff tranquilized the cat with a dart gun, then captured it in a net, spokeswoman Sarah Burnette said. Late in the day, the animal was resting in the zoo’s hospital as police tried to determine where it came from and whether it has an owner, legal or otherwise.

“You wouldn’t just find a serval hanging around Uptown normally,” Burnette said, adding that the cat is likely someone’s exotic pet. But such a creature is nothing to play with, said Maria Davidson, large carnivore programs manager for the state wildlife service.

“It’s a wildcat,” she said. “It’s not as big as a lion or a tiger, but it could certainly do damage to a person.”

Servals typically feed on small animals such as frogs, birds and rabbits, although they occasionally have been seen taking larger game, such as small antelopes.

Audubon Institute officials have agreed to provide the serval a home, probably at the institute’s Species Survival Center in Lower Coast Algiers, if no other option is available.

Henderson relished his brush with the wild kingdom just off Magazine Street, though he was perturbed that no one from officialdom got back to him about the cat’s fate.

“They told me to go back inside because the cat, you know, might have other options,” he said. “They didn’t say hello, they didn’t say goodbye.” Man finds African wildcat in Uptown backyard,” by Coleman Warner, The Times-Picayune, Wednesday, February 18, 2009.

Servals, servals, servals.

There does appear to be several sightings of servals, now and then, in the Midwest, now doesn’t there?

Glad they caught one, and there’s not just a fuzzy cell-cam photo of a “serval-like” cat.

Thanks to Bart Portal of New Orleans for this one.

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

12 Responses to “Serval Caught In New Orleans”

  1. Averagefoot responds:

    They’re fairly commonly bred with domestic cats. When I lived in Arizona I know that its illegal to have a purebred without a license for it there, but I think as long as its like 49% serval or lower its perfectly legal for anyone to keep.

    I’m kinda on the fence about keeping these as pets. Its kinda cool but they should stay in the wild I suppose…. its kinda like people and their wolf hybrids. It’s probably not a good idea. I’m sure Kittenz can elaborate much more on them then I can.

  2. Shelley responds:

    Servals are used to produce Savannah cats, an exotic breed of domestic cat created by mating a serval with a domestic cat. The resulting crossbreeds are exceptionally large, long and sleek and have markings like their wild parent. They are exceedingly popular in the cat world right now, but also very controversial, since they are uncomfortably close to their wild roots. Many cat fancier organizations do not allow them to be shown professionally. Some communities ban Savannah cats as being essentially a wild rather than domestic animal.

    When you are lucky in breeding, you get a very intelligent, active, and large cat. No one knows what happens to the less successful crossbred animals, which is another controversial part of the entire Savannah cat equation.

    If a lot of servals are showing up, this would be what you would expect from their use as breeding stock. The animals would not be tame but be used to human contact. In general, servals are one of the most difficult wild breeds to successfully tame in any way, but conveniently close enough to the domestic cat to provide fertile offspring.

  3. kittenz responds:

    There are many, many servals in private homes all over the country. They can make reasonably good pets – at least until they begin to become fully mature at about three years of age. “Good pet” being a relative term: servals can become just as attached to their people as domestics do, but they can be dangerous around people with whom they aren’t familiar. And both male and female servals spray. And spray. And continue to spray, even if they are neutered. They are not evolved to live confined within an enclosed area such as a house, and their habits always remain those of a wild cat, no matter how tame they become.

  4. raisinsofwrath responds:

    I’m wondering if they misidentified a Savannah. To further what Shelley explained, here’s a link with the back story.

    I also think there’s a new breed out there which is supposed to be a more refined Savannah but I can’t remember what it was called.

  5. bray_beast responds:

    It just seems like a bad idea to create hybrid housecats that are more wild than regular domestics. Housecats do serious damage to songbird populations as is. Giving them the ability to leap eight feet straight into the air by breeding them with a serval doesn’t seem like it would help matters. That said… I want one.

  6. Shelley responds:

    I have seen some Savannah cats exhibited [not officially entered] at a cat show and I want one too. But not enough when I know that somewhere there are some beautiful wild servals whose lives are made hell just for the purpose of producing a pet–and making some $$$ for the breeder. I haven’t even been able to reconcile getting any purebred cat. And with a house full of moggies, as they say in the UK, I won’t be. One of mine looks a bit like a Savannah cat.

    Without seeing a real picture of the animal captured, it would be hard to tell whether it is a full Serval or one of the crosses. It’s possible that this is one of the crossbred cats who was never offered as a pet because the wildness was just not bred out.

    I always thought that the cat that was seen on the U Maryland campus outside DC a few years ago was a Savannah. It disdn’t have the characteristic small rounded ears but when crossbreeding, you get what you get.

    I hope this poor animal is sent to some place where he will be able to live a reasonably comfortable life, in the sunshine, not in some breeder’s basement.

  7. kittenz responds:


    The other breed that you are probably thinking of, that is partially derived from a serval cross, is the Ashera. Here’s a link…
    they sound too good to be true. I’ve never met one but they certainly are beautiful.

  8. Shelley responds:

    $125K for a cat?! It’s beautiful, but I don’t think it’s the most beautiful. Don’t like the small head and round ears–I’ve gotten used to my big eared guys. And my one giant tabby mixed-with-who-knows-what is just as beautifully marked, if not as evenly. Maybe the falling economy will cut off the market for these expensive exotics and their wild parents can stay in the wild and make wild kittens,

  9. kittenz responds:


    I agree – the Asheras are beautiful, but they aren’t $$thousands worth of beautiful! Personally, I think that anyone who would pay $125K for a housepet of any kind has more money than sense. But it’s their money so I guess they can spend it however they want.

    The Ashera cats also may not be entirely as represented. I mean, they definitely are serval hybrids, but they may be nothing more exotic than Savannah cats. According to news reports, some people have been duped into paying for Ashera cats, and subsequent DNA testing proved the cats to be “ordinary” Savannahs. So it’s “buyer beware”. And even though they come with a “one-year guaranteee”, I wonder how many of those gigantic tabbies end up in shelters, given away, or just plain dumped? That’s a lot of cat. I see people every day who can’t handle even an eight pound DSH. They get a cute kitten and six months later they want to be rid of it because it acts like a cat. People fall in love with the exotic appearance of hybrids, forgetting that the exotic appearance comes with exotic behavior as well.

    All of the most wonderful cats I have ever had have been freebies 🙂

  10. Dj Plasmic Nebula responds:

    beautfiul.. let’s see if a siamese would mate with servals

  11. Alligator responds:

    Pets have come in fads. When ‘101 Dalmatians” came out everyone got a Dal pup. However, they are not the best house pet, especially with kids. Lots of Dals were dumped or otherwise disposed of when the truth came out.

    Same thing is happening now with Servals and their hybrids. Add to this the rocky economy and I fear we will see more stories about Servals that are running loose being caught or killed. I really like the spotted cats, but not for $100k and a hosed down house – its bad enough when a regular house cat does that just once or twice 🙁

    You’re right Kittenz. The best cats are the freebies and there are plenty of those little guys that need homes.

  12. bywbatonrougecrypto responds:

    actually a bit interesting to me

    i remember in 9th grade after katrina, one of the kids that joined the class from New Orleans said she saw a dead cheetah in the water at one point, i didn’t know whether to take her seriously when she said it, but here we go.

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