A wildcat that was spotted in a Brookhaven neighborhood has been found, but officials for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) said that lack of protocol has delayed evaluation of the illegally-owned animal. 

Elizabeth Putsche, the communications director for the ALDF, said the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association informed its community about the capture of the wildcat – a serval named Nala – over email on July 6. According to Putsche, a neighbor trapped the cat in their backyard and contacted the owner. 

Putsche said at the time of the email, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources – who instructed residents to report sightings of the cat – had not been informed of the cat’s capture.

“Each person in a community plays a role in safety and enforcing laws,” Putsche said in an email. “The Animal Legal Defense Fund believes it was reckless for the Neighborhood Association to contradict the Department of Natural Resources’ instruction to report any sighting to the agency.”

Putsche shared emails from the neighborhood association where neighbors were asked to text the owner if they saw the cat, and instructed to feed her “raw chicken or meat” to keep her around long enough for the owner to come get her. Putsche said these actions put the community in further danger and have “complicated the situation.”

Mark McKinnon, the public affairs officer for the Law Enforcement Division of the Department of Natural Resources, said the cat is no longer in the care of its owner and is being held in a third-party facility. The department is in the process of finding her a permanent home in a wildlife sanctuary. 

Georgia prohibits unlicensed ownership of serval cats, and they are not permitted as pets in residential homes. In emails from the neighborhood association, the cat is described as a “friendly, housebroken pet that has been declawed and won’t bite.” 

McKinnon said cases of illegal cats or other wild animals are rare in the state. 

“Often, when someone brings an illegal animal into Georgia, it is because they are unaware that the animal is illegal in our state, since the laws regarding ownership/possession are different in some other states,” he said in an email. 

A phone number for the alleged owner of the wildcat was included in the neighborhood association’s emails. However, the person associated with that phone number told The Reporter they are not the owner, and their number was listed by accident.

“Should Nala be removed from unlawful ownership, the Animal Legal Defense Fund is ready to facilitate her placement in a sanctuary for wild cats,” Putsche said. “Servals, like all wild animals, have psychological and physical needs that cannot be met living as a pet. They also pose a danger to the community if they escape — which this situation has proven is possible.” 

The Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association did not respond to requests for comment.

UPDATE: The wildcat is now being held at a third-party facility, and the Department of Natural Resources is in the process of finding a home for her. This article has been updated to reflect that information.

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.