MOSCOW - The search for a Moscow museum's most famous employee -- a large shaggy black cat - has captivated Russians following its mysterious abduction.
Begemot has lived since 2005 in a museum dedicated to the writer Mikhail Bulgakov and is named after a devious giant cat character in his mystical novel "The Master and Margarita."
Museum staff reported Begemot's disappearance to police on Wednesday afternoon after witnesses saw an unidentified woman pick it up and carry it towards the metro.
"His disappearance set all of Moscow in an uproar," reported Moskva-24 local television.
"The most important member of staff at the Bulgakov museum has gone missing," reported another channel, TV Centre.
The 15-year-old cat is an official member of staff at the museum and is a popular attraction in his own right, often photographed slinking around the atmospheric museum or sunbathing in its courtyard.
Police launched a search and hours later found the cat -- minus his collar and address details -- in a nearby theatre, museum staff said.
A passerby had "seen the scared-looking animal and wanted to give him shelter," police said in a statement.
"Thank you, friends, without your help, all this could have ended tragically," the museum staff wrote on Facebook on Thursday.
The museum said it would get the cat a new collar with a GPS location device.
Begemot posed for television cameras being hugged by the museum director and a policeman but was filmed swiping a reporter for Izvestia daily.
But the plot thickened when the woman who abducted the cat again visited the museum and made another attempt to take the cat, claiming he was not being properly looked after, Moskva-24 reported.
A vet said the tom cat was in "satisfactory condition", however, and just needed a few days to get over the stress.
He is not the only cat to be a member of staff at a Russian museum.
Saint Petersburg's renowned Hermitage museum also has an army of cats officially on its staff to keep rodent number downs.