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African serval on the loose in California county

Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Residents of a California county reported numerous sightings of an unusual escaped animal in the area: an African serval.

Kristi Clark, of Olivenhain, said she initially did not know the identity of the unusual animal she spotted in her back yard last week.

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"I mean your first instinct is, is that a leopard? Did the zoo lose an animal or Wild Animal Park or something?" Clark told KFMB-TV. "None of us knew what it was at the time."

Clark's neighbor snapped a photo of the animal, which later was identified as an African serval, a species of wild cat that resembles a small leopard. Servals are not legal to own in California without a permit.

North County reported numerous other sightings of the animal on the NextDoor app.

Emily Schultz said the serval, named Pharaoh, was purchased four years ago by her husband and his mother. She said they were told at the time that the feline was a Savannah cat, a hybrid of a serval and a domestic cat.

Schultz said she and her husband have been caring for Pharaoh since his mother's recent death, but the cat escaped Aug. 7. She said her family understands Pharaoh might be seized by the authorities if he is captured and found to be a full-blooded serval, but they still hope the cat is found.

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"It's terrifying, but we're trying to find him regardless. I'd rather him be safe somewhere else than to be out there alone," she said.

Bruce Ireland, a former sheriff's search and rescue deputy who works part-time removing snakes from properties, said he has received permission from state wildlife officials to set a trap for the serval.

"I'll do whatever I can to find this cat because it certainly doesn't belong in nature," he said.

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