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Nick Natoli's pet serval, Cleo. Image courtesy of <em>St. Louis Post-Dispatch</em>” class=”size-medium wp-image-3330″ title=”Cleo_the_serval” src=”http://blogs.catster.com/kitty-news-network/files/2011/11/Cleo_the_serval-300×224.jpg” alt=”Nick Natoli’s pet serval, Cleo” width=”300″ height=”224″ />
<p>About a month ago, Nick Natoli’s pet serval, Cleo, escaped from her outdoor enclosure near Defiance, Missouri.</p>
<p>Her adventure prompted a number of 911 calls from startled neighbors who thought they’d seen a cheetah or a cougar roaming around their homes.</p>
<p>Finally, last week, Cleo was found hiding in a bush. Police officers used a tranquilizer dart to catch her, and she was <a href=returned to Natoli’s care.

But after Cleo’s escape, Natoli is now thinking about moving her to a facility that houses other servals. “They don’t make the greatest pets for a general household,” he said.

Hmmm … ya think?

Small cats, which are thought to have been descended from the African wildcat, have been living with humans for thousands of years. As a result, evolution has favored cats that are less fearful of humans. Intentional effort has even produced some breeds that wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild (hairless Sphynx-type cats and those with long, easily matting fur and short noses like Persians).

But wild cats are just that: wild. They may act like pets — Natoli says Cleo slept in his bed and was trained to fetch tennis balls, sit, and come when called — but they’ll never be fully domesticated. On the other hand, wild cats that live in homes will never be truly wild, either.

I can’t help but feel bad for the servals, cougars, lions, and other wildcats that people decide to keep as pets, because they can’t be released back into their natural environment. They’ll die out there, either because they don’t have the hunting skills they need or because they don’t know how to socialize with other cats of their species.

In the county where Natoli and Cleo live, no special permits are required to own servals. I wish common sense prevailed so permits weren’t necessary anywhere, but some people seem to get it in their heads that it’s macho or exotic or whatever to have a big cat in their home.

When they’re kittens, they’re manageable, but when they get bigger … well, not so much.

It’s all fun and games until somebody loses a limb.