Toby the giant cat is still missing.
The 45-pound serval who jumped out the window of its Hardeeville home earlier this week has yet to be spotted, owner Christine Ismail said Thursday.
The 2-year-old, spotted big cat went missing from a Plantation Drive home in Hardeeville sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, said Ismail, who owns another serval named Hildi.
Hildi has been “crying for two days missing (Toby),” she wrote in a text message Thursday.
His escape prompted some questions on social media about regulations on exotic pets such as servals.
South Carolina lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year prohibiting the ownership of certain “large wild cats, non-native bears or great apes.”
The bill bans lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars and cheetahs, but it does not prohibit people from owning pet servals, according to S.C. Department of Natural Resources biologist Jay Butfiloski.
In 2015, Beaufort County passed an ordinance to outlaw bringing exotic pets — a category into which servals would fall — into the county.
However, there is no such code in Jasper County or in the City of Hardeeville.
Even if it is perfectly legal for Ismail to own Toby, some question the wisdom of keeping big cats as pets.
“Regardless of any owners claims, these are wild animals that could pose dangers to other animals and to people,” said Lisa Wathne, captive wildlife specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.
Despite the potential for danger, serval pet ownership appears to be on the rise, she said.
Because in recent years many states have passed laws to keep people from owning pet tigers or leopards, big cat enthusiasts often opt for unregulated, similar-looking species such as servals, Wathne said.
“Unfortunately, they are very easy to acquire and are usually relatively inexpensive,” she said.
Butfiloski recommended that owners of pets such as servals do everything they can to keep them inside and away from people and other animals.
Not only could an escaped serval pose a potential danger to others, but being out in the wild could be dangerous for Toby, he said.
There is the risk of coming into contact with a rabid animal or even a hunter who mistakes him for a bobcat, he said.
“It’s deer season,” he said. “There are lot hunters in the woods these days.”
As of Thursday afternoon, neither Beaufort County Animal Services nor the Jasper County Animal Rescue Mission had received any calls reporting sightings of Toby.
While he is not aggressive, Ismail warned that Toby isn’t used to being around strangers and should not be treated like a typical pet if spotted.
“My fear (is that) people think this is a cute pet,” she said, “It’s not.”
How to help
Anyone with information about Toby can call:
▪ Jasper County Animal Control at 843-726-7519
▪ Beaufort County Animal Services at 843-255-5010.