November 10, 2017
Pennsylvania isn't exactly the Serengeti plain. There may be coywolves prowling around the fringes of Philly's Roxborough neighborhood, but one wild animal you wouldn't expect to find here is a cheetah, or anything resembling one.
Over the past week, police in Reading, Berks County, received multiple reports of a cheetah running loose on the streets. Witnesses seemed sure it was the same endangered big cat that can run at top speeds of 60 mph and serves as the mascot for an unhealthy cornmeal snack – or something closely resembling one.
By Friday night, with a clean location in hand, authorities called the Animal Rescue League of Berks County to capture the cat, described to The Reading Eagle as "a majestic animal."
Although the cat appeared to be a young cheetah, it's actually a serval, a different wild African cat that has no business running around Pennsylvania in November either.
Authorities working with the Pennsylvania Game Commission estimated the female serval to be between one and two years old. Staff at ARL quickly noted that the serval had been declawed, meaning it must have been someone's pet.
"Because she was not microchipped and nobody stepped forward to claim her, we felt very strongly that we had an African Serval Cat, which is illegal to own in PA unless you have a permit to own such an animal," the ARL said in a statement.
ARL interim executive director Tom Hubric told The Reading Eagle that Savannah cats, a mix between a serval and a domestic cat, are perfectly legal to own. The exotic serval itself, however, can only be domesticated with a license. Obtaining such a feline, Hubric said, could cost up to $30,000 on the black market.
Reading's serval now will remain in the care of a large cat rescue organization, where she will be used for community outreach and education.