At first, Steven Wright was in shock, unsure of what he was seeing just outside a deer fence a little less than two weeks ago on October 5. But as he got closer, it became clear to the artist and set decorator that he was looking at a medium-sized wild cat — one that you would expect to find on an African savanna and not in a wooded area behind Carroll Street in Sag Harbor.
What Mr. Wright observed for several minutes was a caracal, a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia — an animal that is illegal to own under a 2003 state law aimed at protecting wild animals from private captivity.
As word spread last week, predominantly on social media, of Mr. Wright’s discovery, residents expressed concern for the safety of their pets, and questioned whether pictures circulating the internet were even real. Both Mr. Wright — who captured video footage of his encounter with the wild cat — and Sean Bauer, an animal care associate with the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons, confirmed this week that the animal discovered behind Carroll Street was in fact a caracal, carnivores that primarily prey on birds, rodents and lizards, can jump as high as eight-feet in the air in their hunt for food, and are known for their intelligence and keen hearing.
Mr. Wright said he initially reached out to Southampton Town Animal Control and even the police, but “people didn’t believe me.” Finally, Mr. Bauer, who was experienced working with large cats, took Mr. Wright seriously enough to investigate.
He was able to identify the caracal prints in the ground headed northwest from Carroll Street, although no one has seen the animal, which appears to be declawed and wears bright red collar with a large gold tag, since October 5. Mr. Bauer said it is possible that the animal, which appears to be pure bred, found its way back to its domestic home. If it is still at large, he encouraged residents to contact police or ARF and not to try and capture the caracal or harm the animal.
“I implore people not to hurt or shoot this animal if you see it,” he said. “It appears to be in very good health and is not likely a threat to people. This is not an animal that has a history of attacking people.”
In the meantime, he said he is reaching out to local residents to set up humane traps so the cat — identified by its pointed, black ears and stout tail — can be rescued and safely delivered into the care of professionals equipped to care for wild animals.
It is illegal in New York State to “knowingly possess, harbor, sell, barter, transfer, exchange or import any wild animal for use as a pet in New York state,” according to Environmental Conservation law, unless that animal was owned prior to 2003, and the owner registered its animal with the state. Agencies like ARF are legally allowed to temporarily possess wild animals.
Mr. Wright, who has his own cat, Ezra, hopes that whatever happens to the caracal, that it is safe.
“It was very inquisitive and looked very healthy,” said Mr. Wright, who can be heard talking kindly to the animal in his recording. “But it is depressing to see a wild cat like that with a collar.”