African cat on the loose near US city lured with rotisserie chicken

Servals are illegal to own in New Mexico, but one of the cats still got a free dinner and a ride to the local zoo.

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The Serval was spotted around a state park in the mountains above Santa Fe and later captured with chicken dinner as bait.

NM Game and Fish

It's amazing what a freshly cooked chicken dinner can bring to the table. New Mexico conservation officers credited a rotisserie chicken donated by a local Albertson's with helping them catch an African serval cat that's been wandering the outskirts of Santa Fe in recent weeks. 

Servals are native to sub-Saharan Africa -- the big-eared, spotted cats are usually only seen in North America in zoos. After a male serval was spotted in the woods above the capitol city, state conservation officers began a special trapping operation.

"Our residents did the right thing by immediately reporting the sighting to the department," New Mexico Department of Game and Fish Conservation Officer Manuel Overby said in a statement. 

There have been previous reports of Santa Fe residents with cats bred with servals to produce a half-serval pet. Still, authorities say the African animal isn't a good fit for the US. "Exotic pets like these are not only illegal, they do not make good pets. They have the potential to put the public in harm's way and cause damage to the state's wildlife resources," the department. 

The officers set up a cage trap using the donated chicken as bait and caught the 30-pound (14-kilogram) male cat, which was taken to the Albuquerque BioPark zoo for evaluation and will be kept until a permanent home can be found.

Although servals are not endangered, it is illegal to import or possess them in New Mexico. They are nocturnal hunters who like to feed on rodents like rabbits. 

But they certainly won't say no to an evenly roasted chicken, either. 

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