Bobcats are not known for being cuddly and well-behaved, but someone managed to walk out of a Tennessee nature center with one overnight Monday.
How they managed it is unclear, but the same thieves also tried and failed to steal a bald eagle from the Chattanooga-based Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center.
A $500 reward is being offered for the wildcat’s return and police are investigating, the center said on Facebook.
“She is not a domestic animal and while she has been imprinted on humans, she does not behave like a house cat and is not suitable as a pet,” says the park’s Facebook. “Holding wildlife such as a bobcat in captivity is also illegal under Tennessee law.”
The eagle was not harmed during the attempted theft, officials said.
Authorities suspect the bobcat may have been “stolen for the illegal exotic pet trade.” However, it’s also possible the thieves released it back into the wild, which presents a danger to humans, center officials said.
Just in case, the bobcat’s owners say they alerted local police and the National Park Service, which “patrol(s) the federal land surrounding the property.”
A public warning has also been issued, should some hapless hiker or cyclist find a bobcat in their path, officials said. The center is not far from Point Park Battlefield, Moccasin Bend National Archaeological District and Sunset Rock National Park Climbing Crag.
“If you encounter a bobcat, back up and move away slowly,” center officials posted on Facebook. “Talk, make noise and do not run away. While we presume the bobcat has been stolen, we are concerned that someone may release her into the wild.”
Center officials did not provide details on size of the wildcat.
Bobcats, known for their bobbed tail, are “solitary and territorial animals” that are experts at stalking their prey, according to Defenders of the Wild.
They are known to grow 2-feet tall at the shoulders and weigh more than 30 pounds, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.
And they can run up to 30 mph, says the institute.
It’s believed the stolen bobcat would have trouble surviving in the wild, after becoming “habituated to humans,” officials from the Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center said. “Her only suitable home is back in captivity with us,” said the post.
The Reflection Riding Arboretum & Nature Center describes itself as an “environmental learning center.”