Everyone has pets, especially in Tanzania. Cats – to keep the rat/mouse population down! Dogs – to keep the hyenas at bay at night (or to provide a warning when the genet cats are after the chickens)!

Then there are the so-called exotic pets. Golden Crested Cranes – for their sheer beauty. Monkeys – for their monkey-ness. Ferrets – for their supposed cuteness (bias showing!). Parakeets – well, for both beauty and excited chattering. The list could go on and on with personal preferences taking priority.

BUT a leopard?!?! At least that is what the Africans said.

Several men showed up at our house one day carrying something small in a bag. They said they had killed a leopard and wanted to sell me the one surviving cub. They opened the bag onto the floor and out tumbled this tiny spotted cat, so young its eyes were not yet opened. But I knew it wasn’t a leopard.

Now, wildlife rules forbade the trapping and selling (and buying!) of wild animals without a license. I knew the men did not have a license to “trap” and I certainly had no license to purchase. I refused to purchase it from them.

Upshot? They gave it to me! Now, we were the illegal possessors of a spotted cat. But it was so young and helpless and surely it would die if we didn’t take it.

Before its eyes were opened, it was very fierce – hissing, spitting, clawing, scratching whenever we came near. Survival instincts. Carol fed it; it had a safe place to hide in a closet – but otherwise had the run of the house. Even when its eyes opened after a few days it remained in the house, more docile (except when feeding!), enjoyed by the children and inquisitive about everything that was happening. It even investigated Carol’s sewing skills!

Oh, yes. It was a Serval Cat. Wikipedia says:
“The serval (Leptailurus serval) … is a wild cat native to Africa. It is rare in North Africa and the Sahel, but widespread in sub-Saharan countries except rainforest regions… . Active in the day as well as at night, servals tend to be solitary with minimal social interaction… . The serval uses its sense of hearing to locate the prey; to kill small prey, it leaps over 2 m (6 ft 7 in) above the ground to land on the prey on its forefeet, and finally kills it with a bite on the head or neck… .”

With the approval of the Game Ranger of the Tanzania Game Department, we kept it for many months, raising it and playing with it. It even slept in bed at night (at least for most of the night!) with one of our children. Of course it played rough – biting but not breaking the skin – but was a lot of fun. Outside, it liked to sneak up on me and spring onto my back when I was not looking. Of course, in that action, it had its claws out and my back suffered. One honorary Game Ranger suggested we have it declawed and defanged but we didn’t want to do that against the day we would possibly release it back into the wild.

Over time, it started wandering. It would always come “home” but we soon learned it was visiting close-by villages and killing chickens. I had to pay for quite a number of dead chickens and soon decided I needed to build a pen for Prissy.

With the approval of the Game Department, the San Diego (USA) Zoo offered to take it. The zoo would pay for any preparation and shipment costs. I started the process to get it ready for shipment.

But I was naive – government bureaucracy kicked. Even though the Game Department knew I had it and approved it be sent to the U.S.A., I had to first get an Export Permit; to get an Export Permit I had to get an Ownership Permit; to get an Ownership Permit I had to get a Trapper permit; to get a Trapper Permit I had to get a Big Game Hunter Permit. And all those permits cost money and at least the last two permits needed special approved training and experience which I didn’t have and had no intention of trying to get.

So, now, San Diego would not get Prissy. We found a local wildlife “zoo” (actually just a restricted show-place) and they were happy to get it. We lost a household – though rambunctious – pet; San Diego lost a fine Serval Cat specimen; – but we now didn’t have to pay for any more dead chickens!!

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