Sarah Flatt saw roadrunners, scorpions and the biggest spider she's ever seen while she was living in Arizona for several months.
But when she moved back to Morris County, where she grew up, there was another surprising animal encounter in store.
Flatt, 23, a Florham Park resident, was driving around where she used to live in Boonton Township when she saw a tall, spotted cat with a shiny coat like a leopard roaming the streets on Sept. 25.
Not sure what it was, Flatt stayed in her car and observed it for about 10 minutes.
"I knew it wasn't just a normal cat," she said. "I wouldn't have gotten out to pet it. It didn't look friendly. ... It definitely scared me."
She correctly guessed it was some kind of exotic house pet, took photos with her phone and called police to see if one had been reported missing. The day after she notified authorities, the cat returned to its owners on its own and her photos from the sighting spread to media outlets throughout the region. Flatt was invited to appear on "Good Day New York."
The cat turned out to be a pet Savannah, a mix between a wild African cat called a serval and a domestic cat. One of the cat's owners got in contact with her afterward and told her the cat is friendly. Police said it weighs 20 pounds, though Flatt guessed it weighed 40 pounds.
It's not the only mysterious cat sighting. A report of an animal that was identified as looking like a mountain lion was made to Morris Township police last week.
Bear sightings also have been making the news. Police have reported bears in Madison, Parsippany, Morris Township and prompting Parsippany authorities to release a list of Tips for Staying Safe During a Bear Encounter.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued its own news release about bears on Monday saying black bears are getting ready for winter and bear encounters have been occurring more frequently in heavily populated suburban towns.
“Black bears are preparing to den up for the winter season and need to consume large amounts of food in the fall,” said David Chanda, director of the DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife. “If you live in areas frequented by bears, try to ensure they will not find food near your homes, as bears will naturally take advantage of easy meals by searching through unsecured garbage cans and dumpsters, or raiding bird feeders.’’