African wildcat owner fined £4,000 for keeping it as pet in London home

The animal is held at a secret location to avoid rescue attempts by its former owner

Zena, the African wildcat 
Zena, the African wildcat 

An African wildcat owner has been fined £4,000 for keeping it as a pet in his London home, as the animal is held at a secret location to avoid rescue attempts.

James Brown, 36, has owned Zena since she was a kitten and insisted she is a "big soft pussycat" who is "entirely tame" - and even plays with his young daughter.

However, neighbours in Roehampton, south west London, reported Brown to the police in 2018 after they saw the family pet peering out of a window in the detached property.

Zena, who is 5ft tall when she stands on her hind legs, was taken to a secure holding centre and has since been transferred to a specialist wildlife facility in the UK.

Her location is being kept secret as it is feared Brown may "try to rescue" her, according to prosecutors. 

The beauty salon boss, of Roehampton House, Wandsworth, previously admitted one count of keeping a dangerous wild animal without a licence.

He did not attend his sentencing hearing at Lavender Hill Magistrates' Court this week.

In his absence, District Judge Adrian Turner ordered him to pay £4,000 to cover the re-homing of Zena, her handling and casework.

Zena sitting in the window of the family's detached house in Roehampton, south west London

African wildcats can leap 12ft and run at 55mph. They feed on rodents and other small mammals.

They can be kept legally in the UK provided owners have a licence. Brown claimed Zena was taken from him before his paperwork could be processed.

Following Zena's seizure, a neighbour said: “I went past on a skateboard and nearly fell off when I saw this big animal peering out. But it was never any trouble to us and I’ve no idea who reported them.”  

Brown previously told The Sun: "She has never bitten or clawed anyone. The police took her away like she was some kind of monster but she’s so affectionate. It’s so unfair.

“She’s no more trouble than an ordinary cat and I’ve no idea who would want to report us and get her taken away.

"She was well exercised and there was never any danger of her escaping because she was always on a harness. We all loved her but now I fear we'll never see her again."

Prosecutor Harry Laidlaw told the court that Zena was from the Serengeti National Park in Africa.

Asked by the judge if she was a "domestic size", he replied: "It's rather larger - have you seen the photo of it in the windowsill?"

The court heard that Brown had spoken to the council about building an outside pen to house Zena, but the project would have cost thousands.   "It's a very, very expensive hobby to keep a dangerous animal," said Mr Laidlaw.

The family also have a French bulldog called Rambo and a Chihuahua called Gizmo.