Two serval African wild cats on the loose north of Qualicum Beach are believed to have killed a domestic cat.
The B.C. SPCA say residents should be vigilant, keep pet cats indoors and keep dogs on leashes when outdoors.
CHEK News reported that residents of the Corcan-Meadowood neighbourhood are keeping children and pets indoors for fear of the cats. One resident said the male and female servals had killed a 19-year-old cat.
B.C.’s Conservation Officer Service was notified by the servals’ owner on Tuesday that the cats were loose.
Because servals can be legally owned and are considered domestic pets — not wildlife — they don’t come under the conservation service’s mandate.
It is unclear what citizens should do if they spot one of the cats, though the conservation service said not to approach them. Coastal Animal Control Services said it handles only dog complaints in the Regional District of Nanaimo.
A complaint was made within the past 24 hours about the servals, Dr. Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer with the B.C. SPCA, said Wednesday. “Neighbours are concerned.”
She would not try to catch a loose serval, not knowing how it would react to a stranger.
SPCA officers will be following up with the owner to ensure the animals are being properly taken care of, she said.
The SPCA has been lobbying for several years to see servals fall under the province’s Controlled Alien Species Regulations and is continuing those efforts.
The area where the exotic cats have been spotted is within the Regional District of Nanaimo, which does not have a bylaw restricting ownership of servals, although nearby Qualicum Beach does not permit servals, said Dubois.
Currently a “patchwork” of regulations covers servals, she said. The province can remedy the situation by adding servals to its list of banned exotic animals.
“They put the most dangerous animals on that list initially, but they didn’t cover off some of the medium-sized wild animals from other countries, like serval cats from Africa.”
Another factor is the safety of the animals when they are on the loose.
It is not uncommon for serval cats to have been declawed, Dubois said.
B.C. SPCA said that servals “have a poor quality of life when kept as pets.”
Servals retain their wild instincts and are “cunning escape artists,” the organization said. These cats are difficult to contain in a home or in an enclosure. If they escape, they can be a danger to the public and local wildlife.
Escaped servals have died after being struck by cars or from starvation because they did not learn how to hunt in the wild.
In 2019, the organization seized 13 serval cats from “horrific conditions” near Kamloops. The animals were sent to sanctuaries in the U.S.
In May, a loose savannah cat — a cross between a serval and a domestic cat — was found in Vancouver, where it had initially been reported as a cougar. It was returned to its owner.
Servals and savannah cats are sold in Canada, typically for several thousand dollars.
The San Diego Zoo says servals can weigh up to 40 pounds (18 kilograms) and stand up to two feet (60 centimetres) high at the shoulder.
Their coat is a tawny colour with black lines and spots and a white underbelly.
They have the longest legs and largest ears in relation to their body size of any cat.
Their extra-long neck has led to their nickname “giraffe cats,” the zoo said.