Suffolk County police officers on patrol in Central Islip Friday morning found and captured an exotic cat, which authorities believe is a Eurasian lynx. Newsday TV's Shari Einhorn reports.  Credit: Newsday/Howard Schnapp, Strong Island Animal Rescue League

The elusive exotic cat spotted in Central Islip kept residents on edge for three days until the feline was captured in the hamlet early Friday morning. Now, investigators hope to crack the mystery of how a cat native to Europe found its way onto Long Island. 

The animal, which authorities believe is a Eurasian lynx, had been reported in various locations in the Town of Islip since early Tuesday. He was spotted and captured on Hawthorne Avenue around 3:30 a.m., Suffolk police said. The cat was then transported by the Strong Island Animal Rescue League to the Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. 

Photos of the cat went viral on social media and multiple agencies scrambled to locate the animal. They deployed heat-seeking drones — most recently used to search for sharks in Long Island waters — and set traps to lure the feline to safety.

The cat-and-mouse game didn't come to a close until a resident phoned police early Friday to say the feline had been seen near a residential swimming pool. Officers then spotted the cat pawing through garbage, officials said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

Officers used a grab-pole, commonly used to capture stray animals, and sedated the cat with two jabs of medication. The frightened and panicked cat was not aggressive, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. 

“Fortunately this turned out well … but it could’ve turned out very differently as well,” he said, adding that the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Suffolk County SPCA were investigating the cat’s origins. It is illegal for individuals to own exotic cats in New York. 

SPCA chief Roy Gross said the cat’s owner could face charges of public endangerment as well as fines for illegally owning the wild cat. The owner could face a $250 fine from the DEC. 

The exotic cat spotted on a Central Islip porch earlier...

The exotic cat spotted on a Central Islip porch earlier this week has been captured. The cat, which appears to be a Eurasian lynx, is pictured here with Frank Floridia from Strong Island Animal Rescue League on Friday. Credit: Strong Island Animal Rescue Leag

"Someone obviously had it as a pet," Gross said. “These are wild animals, not the type of animals anyone should have. … They don’t belong in captivity this way.”

The cat, which is about 1-year-old, is an unneutered male, said Sweetbriar wildlife rehabilitator Janine Bendicksen. Despite initial concerns that he was emaciated, Sweetbriar's veterinarian confirmed Friday that the cat — whom the vet named Leonardo de Catbrio — was a healthy weight, she said, and he has parasites and a wound on his face. Sweetbriar is doing a DNA test to determine his breed, and his blood work is perfect, Bendicksen said. 

“He needs a little R&R,” she said. “I think he had a little adventure.” 

When the cat was first brought to the facility, Bendicksen was concerned he would not survive because of how much tranquilizer was used. He weighs nearly 40 pounds, about the size of a Labrador retriever.

Veterinarian Dr. Regina Glanzberg, left, examines the exotic cat that...

Veterinarian Dr. Regina Glanzberg, left, examines the exotic cat that was captured Friday morning in Central Islip as animal rehabber Janine Bendicksen watches. Credit: Sweetbriar Nature Center

She said the cat initially exhibited friendly symptoms. But as the sedation wore off, so did the friendliness. The cat growled and swatted at caretakers, she said. 

Bendicksen said the cat would stay at Sweetbriar until he could be taken to a permanent facility. Gross said the refuge would likely be out of state. DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said the agency was working with the SPCA to determine the best location for the cat.

John Di Leonardo, president of Humane Long Island, said he secured placement for the cat at the Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge, a refuge for abused, abandoned and neglected big cats. Placement of the cat will ultimately be decided by the DEC. 

“Right now, the most important thing is it’s off the streets,” Gross said.

Reported sightings of the exotic cat first surfaced early Tuesday morning when a resident on Half Mile Road in Central Islip discovered the animal on her front porch. The cat had been spotted in various parts of Central Islip, as well as one report to police that it was spotted eight miles away in West Islip on Boulevard Avenue. The cat was captured about half a mile from where it was first spotted. 

Veterinarian Dr. Regina Glanzberg examines the exotic cat that was...

Veterinarian Dr. Regina Glanzberg examines the exotic cat that was captured Friday morning in Central Islip. The staff at Sweetbriar Nature Center, where the cat is being kept, named him Leonardo de Catbrio. He is a healthy 1-year-old boy. Credit: Sweetbriar Nature Center

Although the exotic cat was initially thought to be a bobcat, lynx or serval, animal experts said photos taken by homeowner Diane Huwer as he traipsed around her porch Tuesday indicated it likely was a Eurasian lynx. The Eurasian lynx is native to parts of Europe, Russia and Central Asia, and can weigh as much as 60 pounds.

Huwer, a cat lover who owns five indoor cats and cares for several outdoor cats, was emotional when she learned the feline had been found “safe and sound.”

“I’m an animal lover, and I hate to see an animal in distress,” she said. "The poor thing must have been hungry.”

The DEC asks anyone with information about the cat or its owner to contact the agency at 631-444-0250.

With Shari Einhorn and Howard Schnapp 

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