You need a license to keep a serval in the UK

I have just written about a young, one-year-old serval being taken away by the police from a man who was looking after her in Putney, London, UK. He didn't have a licence but he claimed that he was applying for one. He also claims that he wasn't trying to evade the requirement to have a licence. He is distraught because this serval, called Zena, was in a close friendship with his daughter. The man's name is James Brown. He appears to live with a female partner in a house but it might be a ground floor flat.

Zena a one year old pet serval who was confiscated from her owner because he did not have a licence (UK law for certain wild cat species)
Zena a one year old pet serval who was confiscated from her owner because he did not have a licence (UK law for certain wild cat species). Photo: James Brown.

He says the cat is friendly and there were no problems. Although he adopted Zena from another person who gave her up because he hadn't realised how difficult it was to look after a serval. This proves my point made in a recent article I wrote on this website about the unsuitability of looking after a serval or any other wild cat species as a pet. In the UK some wild cat species require a licence in order to keep them and others don't. Personally I don't see the logic in the list which I have reproduced below. See below:

Law on keeping exotic wild cat species as pets
Law on keeping exotic wild cat species as pets - license required for some species.

Zena will be checked out medically and then relocated to a wildlife sanctuary for what appears to be the remainder of her life. James Brown will not see her again, I suspect. He has petitioned online to get her back but so far without success.

A neighbour ratted on him because they saw zena in the window looking out the window as cats do. It was a bit of cat television for the serval and a bit of anguish for the serval's owner. In the UK you apply for a licence from the local authority. In James Brown's case that would have been Wandsworth County Council.

I suspect that it isn't a pushover to get a licence because you will have to demonstrate that you have the means, time, education, skills, commitment and facilities to do a decent job of it. Not everybody can demonstrate that. You have to go into adopting and looking after a wild cat as a pet with your eyes wide open both to the commitment required and the legal requirements.

In this instance the man failed because he didn't go into it with enough preparation and knowledge. Although, as he claims, there appears to have been no real issues but we don't know the full story. As I mentioned in my previous article it can be difficult to look after a serval in the home. They sometimes spray urine which is very distressing and the amount of spaces well below that required emotionally for a serval (they need up to 10 square kilometres). This results in them trying to escape and not infrequently they succeed because they are very slippery and difficult to confine.

Once they get out of the home they are incredibly vulnerable to being hit by vehicles on the road or being injured by people. This last point particularly applies in America where there are a plethora of handguns and rifles inside homes. There have been cases of escaped servals being shot because the neighbours fear that they are dangerous and see them as an escaped wild animal perhaps from a zoo or something like that.

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