The father of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is facing 21 charges after he allegedly illegally owned and released a wild African cat that attacked a neighbor’s dog and was later fatally shot by police.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, Stacy Elliott, aka Stacy El-Muhammad, faces nine charges from the Ohio Department of Agriculture and 12 charges from other Ohio agencies.
El-Muhammad allegedly set cat free in Ohio suburb
Sheriff’s deputies searched a Columbus-area property owned by El-Muhammad on Oct. 13 after responding to a call that a bobcat was attacking a neighbor’s dog, according to the Dispatch. When the deputies arrived on the scene of the call, they shot and killed the cat that they felt was a threat.
The dog survived, according to the report.
What is a serval?
That cat wasn’t a bobcat, but a serval, a wild cat native to Africa. According to the San Diego Zoo, servals are “small, slender cats with long legs, a lean body, a short tail and a small head.”
Mature servals range from 23 to 36 inches in length, 17 to 24 inches in height and weigh anywhere from 15 to 40 pounds. They live up to 19 years in the wild.
El-Muhammad allegedly denied owning the cat
El-Muhammad denied that he was the owner of the serval when asked by department of agriculture, according to the Dispatch. But investigators traced the cat to El-Muhammad from data in a microchip that showed that he purchased the serval.
It is illegal to own a serval in Ohio without a permit.
Charges include a felony
The Fairfield Area Humane Society and Fairfield County dog warden also pressed charges against El-Muhammad on Tuesday that include a fifth-degree felony charge for intentionally allowing an exotic animal to escape.
The charge for owning an exotic animal without a permit is a first-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum of six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, according to the Dispatch.
Other charges include failure to notify of a dangerous wild animal escape, obstruction of official business and failure to have dangerous wild animal signage on cage, according to the report.
El-Muhammad worked on former Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s staff from 2015-17.
Impacts of the exotic animal trade
According to National Geographic, the exotic pet trade results in millions of wild animals sold annually around the world for domestic keeping and contributes to a multi-billion dollar black market. The practice has potentially devastating impacts on each leg of the trade from collection, to transportation to distribution.
The exotic animal market has contributed to the decimation of global animal populations and often leads to the suffering and death of animals that don’t survive harsh conditions of black-market transportation, per National Geographic.
When animals do arrive at their destinations, they often present a threat to their new environments as invasive species that can spread disease or attack owners or pets, as was the case with the serval allegedly belonging to El-Muhammad.
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