Big cat – not a tiger – still at large after two-day hunt

Experts say pug marks indicate elusive animal is a large feline, but not a tiger as originally thought.
Members of the police animal brigade walk through a wood in Montevrain, east of Paris, on November 13, 2014. Thibault Camus / AP Photo
Members of the police animal brigade walk through a wood in Montevrain, east of Paris, on November 13, 2014. Thibault Camus / AP Photo

PARIS // A big, wildcat eluding 200 police and military forces near Disneyland Paris is not a tiger, French authorities said on Friday.

But they do not know exactly what it is.

The creature popped up near a supermarket, crossed a major motorway, slinked past a gas station, and sent regional officials into high alert.

The administration for the Seine-et-Marne region had said on Thursday that authorities were searching for a tiger on the loose.

But on Friday afternoon, the administration said “the presence of an animal of the tiger species has proven to be excluded”.

The statement was based on analysis by government wild animal experts of the animal’s tracks.

It said the animal is a feline but they are still trying to determine its species.

Where the animal came from remains a mystery.

Some 200 police, military officers and others took part in the search. A helicopter buzzed over woods east of Paris and a dozen police vehicles lined a grassy area where the feline was spotted on Friday.

“He was also seen by lorry drivers on the road,” Montevrain mayor Christian Robache said.

Police officers guarded a school as children arrived for class in Montevrain, the French town where the animal was first seen near a car park on Thursday.

Tiger or no tiger, Montevrain resident Jean-Francois Ameur was taking no risks as he told his son to wait for a neighbour to pick him up from school in a car.

“It’s been running for 48 hours and it hasn’t eaten, so yes, I’m worried,” said Mr Ameur.

Tracks were spotted Friday morning near the A4 motorway between the towns of Bussy-Saint-Georges and Ferrieres-en-Brie.

Drivers were asked to take “the greatest precautions” on the motorway, a major artery between Paris and eastern France.

Authorities warned nearby residents to stay in cars instead of walking on foot – and especially to avoid walks in the woods. A Total petrol station near the sighting was briefly closed.

Both sites where the animal or its tracks were seen are about 10 kilometres from Disneyland Paris, one of Europe’s top tourist destinations.

The operator of the theme park says it is not taking any special precautions because the loose animal is not deemed a threat.

Disneyland is surrounded by high walls to keep out intruders.

A wildcat animal park in the region, the Parc des Felins, said none of its cats is missing.

Some tweets suggested that the tracks belonged to a big dog, not a cat, but the head of the Paris regional Wolfcatcher Society, Robert Picaud, insisted the tracks could not have been falsified.

“It is clear that here is a feline walking around,” he said.

French tiger trainer Thierry Le Portier said that if the feline was raised by its mother it would be more distrustful and tougher to catch.

Raised by humans, it would be less distrustful but no less dangerous.

“It can remain in hiding for a long time,” he said, adding that it’s “no problem” if the cat goes without eating for up to four days.

A local woman sounded the alarm early on Thursday morning after spotting the animal in the supermarket car park.

Several more people later came forward saying they had seen a “tiger” on the prowl.

“It’s becoming hysteria. That was to be expected,” said a police source.

Amid fears the animal was a tiger, Gilbert Edelstein, from the Pinder circus, said the best response to coming face-to-face with the beast, at the time thought to weigh around 70 kilograms, was to “scream as loud as possible”.

“Even better, scream in German. The guttural sounds could scare him away,” Mr Edelstein said.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Published: November 15, 2014 04:00 AM


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