Evi the missing bobcat may be loose in the forest near Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center after would-be-thieves allegedly tried to steal her and let the bobcat loose, according to nature center president Mark McKnight.
Nature center personnel originally believed the bobcat was stolen for the illegal exotic pet trade, but now officials believe "young people" let her loose in the woods after the bobcat fought back and escaped.
The trespassers paddled onto the property from Lookout Creek, walked up the boardwalk and went to the nature center's native animal area, according to a statement from McKnight.
They allegedly attempted to steal a bald eagle before setting the bobcat loose.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and federal law enforcement authorities are working to locate the bobcat, according to McKnight. The public is asked not to approach the animal. Anyone who sees Evi is asked to take a cell phone picture and send it directly to her keeper Taylor Berry at 423-309-9969. Most smart phones will attach GPS coordinates.
"She would have difficulty successfully surviving in the wild and her survival is at stake. 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," McKnight wrote. "Holding wildlife such as a bobcat in captivity is also illegal under Tennessee law."
The nonprofit nature center located off Cummings Highway along Lookout Creek provides shelter for animals that can't be reintroduced into the wild; all are injured, part of species survival plans or can't be reintroduced because of other circumstances. The center is also home to red wolves, a red fox, sandhill cranes and other animals.
The search for the missing bobcat will resume Friday.