A local lawmaker has filed a bill to ban people from possessing African serval cats after one escaped from its owners in a Vernon Hills neighborhood in November and died when it was captured.
Illinois State Rep. Daniel Didech (D-Buffalo Grove) introduced the legislation during the first week of the 2024 legislative session.
Didech said Tuesday the bill proposes a ban on the possession of African serval cats throughout Illinois.
The lawmaker said the legislation was prompted by an incident in Vernon Hills last year where a serval being kept as a pet escaped its enclosure and was roaming a residential neighborhood for hours.
“The keeping of dangerous, exotic animals as pets is not appropriate in a residential environment,” Didech said.
“It is time to update our dangerous animals law to ensure we are adequately keeping families safe throughout Illinois,” he said.
State law currently prohibits individuals from possessing lions, tigers, leopards, ocelots, jaguars, cheetahs, margay, mountain lions, lynx, bobcats, jaguarundis, bears, hyenas, wolves, coyotes and nonhuman primates.
Under Didech’s proposal, it would also be illegal to possess caracals, kangaroos, wallabies or any hybrid of dangerous animals, including servals.
The law recognizes exceptions for the possession of dangerous animals in a properly maintained zoo, federally licensed exhibit, circus, college, scientific institution, research laboratory, veterinary hospital, hound running area or animal refuge in an escape-proof enclosure.
Didech said he is working with experts at the Illinois Humane Society and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to update the dangerous animals law.
The proposal, known as House Bill 4446, will be considered during the 2024 legislative session, which runs through the end of May.
The Vernon Hills Police Department said they responded around 7:16 p.m. on November 18 to the Grosse Pointe subdivision initially for a report of a bobcat on the loose.
Vernon Hills Deputy Police Chief Shannon Holubetz said at the time that 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.
“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.
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.