Man who broke into Chattanooga nature center tried to play fetch with bobcat while drunk, must appear at jail later this month

Evi the bobcat is seen in her enclosure at Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center on Tuesday, June 18, 2019, in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The man who allegedly broke into Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center last month tried to play fetch with a bobcat while drunk.

Evi the bobcat escaped, setting off a weeklong search that ended when it returned on its own to its cage scratched and frail.

Cayden Melia, 21, was identified as a suspect after an unidentified member of the public came forward to nature center personnel about Melia's potential involvement. He was issued a citation in lieu of an arrest for criminal trespassing and vandalism

A Chattanooga police officer went to Melia's home in the 600 block of Snow Street where he admitted to drinking, breaking into the nature center and accidentally setting the animal loose, according to an affidavit.

Melia broke into the cage with a rock and started throwing a ball with the bobcat but it escaped, according to the affidavit. He allegedly tried to corral the animal back into the cage but couldn't, so he left. Melia must turn himself in to the Hamilton County Jail the morning of July 14th. He will appear before a sessions court judge August 6.

Melia is believed to be one of two people involved in the incident. The nature center captured some of the incident on camera, but the footage is not enough to make out who the individuals were. The other person has not been identified and there is no mention of them in the affidavit.

Melia was caught after allegedly sending a Snapchat message to a woman he knew who he thought might have some information about the nature center's camera system. She did not, and called nature center personnel to let them know the animal had not been stolen - which was initially suspected - but had been let loose sometime late June 10th. Evi returned to her cage June 17. Evi lost considerable weight and had wounds believed to have been caused by a barbed wire fence.

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.