The last thing passers-by thought they would see is a dangerous wildcat sat on a window ledge...

Residents in Roehampton were left shocked after realising a serval cat was being kept in their neighbourhood.

James Brown, kept the animal as a family pet without a licence, and has been convicted of an offence under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act (DWA) 1976.

Magistrates heard that the animal, normally found in sub-Saharan Africa, is a dangerous predator that cannot normally be purchased in this country and if legally imported, can only be kept by special licence holders.

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It is not clear how the animal came to be in the UK

Wandsworth Council’s licensing team first became aware of its presence when Mr Brown emailed the town hall to inquire about obtaining a DWA licence.

During a subsequent telephone conversation where it was explained what would be required for a licence he changed tack and said he was about to move from his address in Old Devonshire Road, Balham to a new residence in Lambeth.

Wandsworth officers then contacted their counterparts in Lambeth to alert them – but Lambeth Council never received any licence application from Mr Brown.

Two months later a member of the public contacted the council to complain about seeing a wildcat sat on a window ledge at Mr Brown’s property in Old Devonshire Road.

When contacted he said he no longer owned the serval and again insisted he was moving to Lambeth.

Nothing more was heard for six months when another member of the public complained about seeing a wildcat sitting at the window of a property in Vitali Close, Roehampton, which enquiries revealed as being Mr Brown’s new home.

Vitali Close, Roehampton

Vitali Close, Roehampton

As a result animal welfare officers and police were able to visit and question Mr Brown, who at that stage insisted the cat was not a serval but another species of less dangerous wildcat.

Authorities have since confirmed the serval was removed and rehoused at a specialist wildlife facility where it could be cared for.

Mr Brown subsequently gave interviews to local and national media saying he was actively trying to get a licence and claimed he’d only agreed to look after the serval after its previous owner had struggled to care for it.

The court was told these claims were undermined by Mr Brown’s glowing Facebook endorsements of the Russian company he’d purchased it from, while checks showed that a microchip found in its neck had indeed been issued to a company in Russia.

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A close relative to a cheetah - a serval in its natural surroundings

Mr Brown subsequently failed to attend taped interviews and did not answer a summons to appear in court.

He was convicted in his absence and at a sentencing hearing on Tuesday at Lavender Hill magistrates court, which he also did not attend. 

He was fined £1,000, ordered to pay £4,000 in prosecution costs, a £181 victim surcharge, and banned from owning any wild animals for two years.

Community services and environment spokesman Cllr Steffi Sutters said: “Keeping a wild animal like this as a pet is a risky business, but it is possible if certain licence requirements are met.

"These have been written into law to not only ensure the safety of the public but also the welfare and wellbeing of the animal.

“However it is not suitable to keep a predatory wildcat that should be roaming the wide-open plains of Africa in a cramped residence in Roehampton.

“In this case Mr Brown sought to deceive the authorities about what species the animal was and where it was being kept.

"It was only as a result of complaints from members of the public that we were able to track it down.

“Happily as a result of the action we were able to take this wildcat is now living and thriving in much more natural and appropriate surroundings.”