It took more than a flyer on a lamppost for a lost cat in Vancouver’s Shaughnessy neighborhood to be returned to its owner on Wednesday.
Police and conservation officers were called after residents reported seeing a cougar, far from its natural habitat, in the area of Granville Street and 20th Avenue around 1 p.m.
“We notified some schools in the area for student safety when we thought it might be a feral cat,” said Sgt. Steve Addison of the Vancouver Police Department.
“It was a domestic cat that was circled and returned to [its] owner by our officers.”
But not before many people reported the big cataccording to the BC Conservation Officer Service (COS).
The COS, in a tweet, identified the big cat with the distinctive spotted coat as a savannah cat, which is not a aliens or “controlled alien species” under the laws of British Columbia.
Exotic animals not native to British Columbia are not considered wildlife under the designation, but are considered a potential threat to people, property and other wildlife.
It is also illegal to breed or transport species listed in the regulations, which includes other big cats like tigers and lions.
Savannah cats are not regulated by the Controlled Alien Species regulations.
But the animal that caused Shaughnessy momentary panic turned out to be none of those.
“We appreciate the public calling for tips so they can be safely reunited with their owner,” COS said on Twitter.
While the Conservation Officer Service maintains the cat was a Savannah cat, at least two feline experts aren’t so sure, saying it was likely a serval, a native wild cat from Africa.
A savannah cat is a hybrid species that is a cross between a serval and a domestic cat.
Eric Buckingham, who breeds savannah cats with his wife Sharon, said Wednesday’s lost feline was larger than a typical savannah cat and had a different spotted pattern to savannah cats he’s seen.
“Usually most savanna herders don’t have servals because they’re too wild,” he told CBC News. “A serval is really wild…it’s not a house cat.”
Buckingham said Savannah cats bred for pet owners are often five or six generations removed from their serval ancestors.
“Usually when we raise kittens, we want them to be [generation] five and six because… they’re still players and everything,” he said.
Dr. Sara Dubois, scientific director of the BC SPCA, said servals are not suitable as pets, although they are still bred and sold as exotic house cats.
She also said it was likely the cat that was returned to its owner on Wednesday was a serval.
“[Servals are] fast and they’re great jumpers and they’re still pretty dangerous,” she told CBC News. “They’ll be smaller than a lynx if it helps people visualize their size.
“They are hunters, who constantly need to be enriched. And that is why they are so difficult to keep in captivity.”
Dubois said the SPCA pushed the BC government to include servals in the Controlled Alien Species Regulations, especially after a 2019 survey found 13 servals living in “horrendous” conditions in Kamloops, B.C.
She said the animals would suffer significantly in captivity even though they posed no public health risk.
“We have a lot of house cats waiting for a home,” she said. “That’s not the point. It’s really about these exotic designer cats that people buy.”
CBC News contacted the COS to reconfirm the species of the lost cat, but did not receive a timely response.