Police are disputing speculation and say they did not cause the death of an escaped African serval cat who was injured after being transported in a police car following its capture in Vernon Hills.
The Vernon Hills Police Department responded around 7:16 p.m. last Saturday to the Grosse Pointe subdivision for a report of a bobcat on the loose.
Vernon Hills Deputy Police Chief Shannon Holubetz said a 911 caller reported that the animal had chased and cornered a resident who had been walking her dog in the area.
Officers arrived and spotted the cat. They began tracking the animal while attempting to identify its species.
A photograph was taken and sent to personnel from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), Holubetz said.
The IDNR identified the animal as a serval, which is a wild cat species native to Africa.
“Please take this seriously, folks. My neighbor and I were out walking our dogs and encountered it. It was about as big as my 75-lb. pitty and was seriously stalking the dogs. It was not afraid of us; it got within a few feet,” one resident said after police issued a social media alert to residents about the animal.
“I thought for sure it was going to attack the dogs. We are safe because we started yelling and some good-hearted neighbors let us into their homes, then called VHPD (thank you for your swift response, VHPD!) I am feeling very grateful (and shaken) tonight,” the resident added.
Officers located the cat’s owners a short time later. They were out in the neighborhood looking for the escaped animal, Holubetz said.
The owners assisted in the serval’s capture and controlled the animal as it was being transported to their nearby home.
As the owners attempted to transfer the cat from a vehicle to its enclosure, the serval sustained injuries and the animal died, Holubetz said.
“Several have speculated that police personnel injured or contributed to the animal’s death, but that speculation is not correct,” police officials said in an update earlier this week.
“This was a stressed and agitated animal that proved extremely difficult to control. Due to this fact, the serval was only handled by its owners, and no police personnel were physically involved in its capture or handling,” the department said.
The animal was transported under the control of one of its owners in the rear of a police vehicle.
The cat “franticly attempted to defeat its capture” and struggled for an extended time, which likely caused injury, police said.
“The end result was unfortunate. We express our sympathy to the serval’s owners for their loss of a pet. We will be reviewing potential regulations moving forward to determine if modifications are advisable,” the police department said.
Officers learned from the owners that the cat likely escaped its pen while the owners were away from home. The serval was loose for nearly three hours.
“This is an unfortunate incident, and we extend our condolences to the animal’s owners for their loss,” Vernon Hills Police Chief Patrick Kreis said.
“The keeping of exotic pets in suburban environments, though, is not without risk. We are fortunate that no nearby residents or pets were injured by this naturally predatory animal,” Kreis said.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources and the Illinois Department of Agriculture confirmed the possession of servals is not illegal in Illinois but the sale of servals is prohibited, Holubetz said.
Vernon Hills officials said they will review local regulations on the keeping of similar animals to determine if changes are recommended moving forward.