Updated at 4:40 p.m. on Monday, June 17, 2019, with more information.
The suspect who allegedly let a bobcat loose from the Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center last week was charged Monday afternoon, just hours after the animal returned home.
Cayden Melia, 21, was issued a citation in lieu of an arrest for criminal trespassing and vandalism. He has until July 14 to turn himself in.
The investigator wrote in a report that they did not believe there was any intent for theft and the bobcat escaped to the damage done to the cage, according to Chattanooga Police Department spokeswoman Elisa Myzal.
Melia is one of two suspects believed to have been involved in the criminal activity. The suspects also allegedly damaged the enclosure for the nature center's bald eagle.
Evi, the missing bobcat, wandered back to her enclosure at the nature center shortly before 11 a.m. Monday.
She had been sighted on game cameras above the property on the slopes of Lookout Mountain throughout the weekend, walking between nature center and National Park Service property, according to nature center president Mark McKnight.
McKnight and others with the nature center had been working to get photos from the cameras when they got a call letting them know Evi had found her way home. She was spooked and hiding in the cave in her enclosure. Her caretakers were feeding her slowly as she had lost about a third of her body weight after a week in the wilderness, according to McKnight.
The bobcat was let loose late Monday night or early Tuesday morning last week. Originally, it was thought she had been taken for the exotic pet trade but it was later discovered she had escaped into the nearby woods after the suspects tampered with the enclosure, according to McKnight. The nature center used donations to set up several game cameras in the area. The bobcat had been eating some of the food her handlers left out for her.
Nature center personnel received a tip last week to help them identify one of the two suspects. The tip also led personnel to believe the animal was in the nearby forest. At that time, they changed focus from trying to find who was holding her captive to trying to find her in the forest surrounding the property, according to McKnight.
The nature center offered a $500 reward for information leading to her safe return.
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, like Evi.