Posted: Sep 24, 2009 9:09 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 24, 2009 10:15 PM EDT
TUCSON, AZ (KOLD) - People outside a Catalina Foothills home couldn't believe their eyes.
They thought the big cat looked like an ocelot, which is unheard of in the wild in Arizona.
It turns out, they did see something downright rare.
A serval that's native to Africa.
A man was driving through a Catalina Foothills neighborhood, Wednesday night, and suddenly he spotted it.
Fred Thomas says he knew immediately it was not indigenous to Arizona.
Thomas says it had beautiful spots and looked like a cheetah.
The animal ended up near a mailbox.
Thomas says he thought was sick or hurt.
He called 911.
The serval is at the Tucson Wildlife Center, a non-profit sanctuary and rehabilitation center.
One of the center's rehabilitators got the call to go out to the neighborhood.
Lisa Bates-Lininger is founding president of the Tucson Wildlife Center.
She says they had to tranquilize the big cat
"She could still move and attack and she was really upset with the people around her. So we did tranquilize her and we found nothing wrong with her major," Bates-Lininger says.
But the serval was in bad shape.
"She was dehydrated and tired and just ready to give up. She may have died last night, but luckily we got her in. We got her emergency treatment, fluids for shock," Bates-Lininger says.
The animal's feet were very sore.
She's also missing a rear leg.
It had been surgically removed.
"This is obviously an escaped pet because it's an exotic cat. She was in really good condition. Whoever had her loved her and took good care of her," Bates-Lininger says.
If it is a purebred serval, the owner would need a permit to have it in Arizona.
The Arizona Game and Fish Department says servals are brought into the United States to breed with domestic cats, and create the Savannah cat.
In Arizona you don't need a permit for a hybrid, even if it's first generation.
"So we hope that the owner can find us and we can get this cat back to the owner," Bates-Lininger.
If the owner can't be found, the serval's future is uncertain.
Bates-Lininger says the Tucson Wildlife Center can't keep it.
She says the center keeps only native species of animals that cannot be released back into the wild.
Bates-Lininger says she believes people should not keep exotic pets, that they belong in the wild.
But she also says sanctuary-type homes that care for an animal can be a good thing.
Game and Fish Game Ranger Mike Pastirik says, like Bates-Lininger, the department prefers people not own exotic animals.
He says it's primarily out of concern for public safety and for humane reasons.
He says the department is concerned about the welfare of the animals.
Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at http://www.bigcatrescue.org