It must have been an astonishing sight: someone had left a crate on the rescue center’s doorstep, and it wasn’t an empty one either. Then, when staff looked inside, they were even more shocked. The animal returning their stare was clearly wild, but it was wearing a collar. Had someone actually kept it as a pet?
The aforementioned organization is Carolina Tiger Rescue (CTR), and it’s fair to say the unexpected delivery surprised employees at the center. The animal’s former owners had squeezed it into a dog crate and left it at the CTR’s premises on April 27, 2009. The carrier’s inhabitant, however, was neither a tiger nor a dog, but something else entirely.
The story actually began the previous day, when a CTR member answered a ringing phone. The person on the other end – a woman who didn’t give her name – made an unusual request. To be more specific, she said a friend of hers needed help.
It transpired the friend had bitten off more than she could chew, as she was the owner of a rather wild pet. It seemed the animal was too aggressive to keep and needed a new home. Therein lay the problem, however; CTR’s curator had to sign new residents off.
Furthermore, not only was the curator off that day, but there was also another issue – CTR was struggling for space. It had recently admitted two tigers to the sanctuary, both of which were using the quarantine area. Nevertheless, CTR gave the woman the curator’s contact details.
Still, CTR’s curator didn’t expect to find the animal waiting for her in a dog carrier the following day. The container was way too small for its occupant, which turned out to be an adult serval cat, a medium-sized wildcat indigenous to Africa.
The felines are generally solitary creatures that live on a diet of small animals such as birds and rodents. An acute sense of hearing helps the cats pinpoint prey, which they then ambush with the minimum of fuss. Indeed, servals boast an incredible pounce and can leap around seven feet off the ground.
CTR’s communications manager Jessika Morgan recounted events to The Dodo on January 30, 2018. “We found [the serval] on our doorstep in a dog crate with a note attached,” she said. “[It told] us about his former home and his name.”
Consequently, staff knew that the cat’s name was Elvis, as his previous owners had indicated as much. The note accompanying the crate ended simply, “Love me tender, Elvis.” As previously mentioned, the owner made Elvis leave the building because of his wild nature.
“He became too large and too aggressive for his owner to handle,” Morgan continued. “It’s not his fault, he’s a wildcat with wildcat instincts, [so] we found a way to make it work. We couldn’t turn him away.” Consequently, CTR let Elvis into their hearts.
Elvis’ medical check-up revealed that his owners probably didn’t know how to take care of him properly. To begin with, he was significantly underweight for a cat his size and was possibly suffering from malnourishment. But there was something else, too.
CTR noticed some marks on Elvis’ neck, as if the skin had grown over a collar he’d been wearing. Further investigation revealed that this was indeed the case. Moreover, the collar was still embedded in Elvis’ flesh and had to be surgically removed.
Additionally, Elvis’ forehead bore scars. “We believe [they] came from him constantly rubbing his face on the crate,” CTR explained on its official website. And when the cat’s carers introduced him to his new outdoor enclosure, his reaction told a story of long confinement.
Morgan told The Dodo, “He walked in circles for a while. [That indicated] to us that he was confined to that crate for a while.” But after he settled in, Elvis’ true personality started to blossom. He even found a love of the crowd, just like his namesake!
Despite being abandoned on account of his aggressive nature, Elvis loved visitors. “Elvis can be a very social serval,” the CTR website described. “[He] will often come up to the fence to greet tour guests and volunteers.” As long as they keep their distance, that is.
And if they don’t steer clear then the cat will soon let them know, as the CTR website confirms. “[Elvis] will, however, remind someone if they are too close by hissing at them and backing away,” it states. Hissy fits nothwithstanding, Elvis still took his place on CTR’s tour. But one day, a few years after his arrival, the center’s care team noticed something: Elvis wasn’t using one of his limbs.
Subsequently, an examination revealed that Elvis had somehow broken his rear left leg. “It was shattered in more than a dozen places – and we still aren’t sure how it happened,” Morgan said. Sadly, as a result of the terrible damage, animal doctors had to amputate the leg.
A thorough check of the grounds failed to shed any light on the matter, and the whole event remains a mystery. But Elvis had survived so much already, and soon he adapted to his new disability, too. Not even losing a leg could cut Elvis’ show short.
“Elvis lives happily on our tour path, still able to run and jump up onto his platforms,” Morgan told The Dodo. Happily, then, the cat is now living free as he was always meant to do. Other servals, however, aren’t so lucky as it’s legal to keep wild animals as pets in North Carolina. Moreover, this is something that CTR is clearly unhappy about.
“Elvis’ story is a direct result of this lack of legislation,” CTR’s website reported. “People are obtaining them as pets and then realizing, sometimes at the expense of a human life, or the animal’s life, that this isn’t a good idea. Animals such as Elvis deserve to be respected as the wild animals they are.”