Guests were allowed to visit and pet an African Serval a medium-sized wild cat at a child’s birthday party at Potawatomi Zoo, Indiana. The video that was shared from the party shows a mother and her child going near the cat from behind as the toddler reaches out to pet the cat. Then, the cat quickly jumps forward with a loud hiss and bites the toddler on the head. Shocked screams can be heard in the video when it happens.
Copper, the 4-year-old cat is the zoo’s ambassador animal and is brought to parties and other events regularly on a leash. The zoo claims that Copper has met many people without incident. However, the cat had this time had enough and he made sure everyone knew.
Susan Bass, PR manager for Big Cat Rescue (BCR), said that she was disheartened but not surprised that the wildcat lashed out.“At BCR’s sanctuary in Florida, servals are often the first cats to hiss and tell people to “back off” as they walk by,” Bass said.
“Approaching any animal from behind, even a domestic cat or dog, can cause injury when the animal isn’t aware you’re there,” Bass told The Dodo. “When those wild instincts kick in, the animal can hurt or even kill a child. I find it very irresponsible that a zoo would put children or adults in this situation just to bring in more money.”
The host of the party paid extra money to have the cat there, according to zoo director Marcy Dean. It has been reported that the mother of the toddler who was bitten by the cat is speaking with an attorney. The toddler was thankfully not seriously injured but Bass fears that he might have to face being sold to another animal attraction—or worse.
“There is no rabies vaccine for wild cats,” Bass explained. “If the mother of the child wanted to be sure the cat didn’t have rabies, he’d have to be put down in order to be tested. That could cause the cat to lose its life, all from being forced into unnatural acts like going to a birthday party.”
The zoo confirmed that Copper has been pulled out from their programs after the incident. One of the zoo employees named Christina said that Copper is traditionally not an exhibit- animal. We do not know what his living conditions are while he is not going around visiting people.
“He’s always lived behind the scenes,” she said.
Bass says that some zoos can use animals like tortoises as “educational.” However, it is not common for a wildcat like a serval to be used for such purposes because they are mostly shy.
Such a temperament and being exposed to noisy surroundings can make it really stressful for them.
“There’s nothing educational about dragging a wildcat to an unnatural place with kids screaming and people taking pictures,” Bass said. “The zoo put the animal in this situation, and then are surprised when it acts like a wild animal. They should know better.”
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