MONTEVRAIN, France – A big, wild cat eluding 200 police and military forces near Disneyland Paris is not a tiger, French authorities said Friday – but they don’t know what it is.
The creature popped up near a supermarket, crossed a major highway, slinked past a gas station, and sent regional officials into high alert.
The administration for the Seine-et-Marne region had announced Thursday that authorities were searching for a tiger on the loose.
But in a statement 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.
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It said the animal is a feline but they are still trying to determine its species. The hunting office could not be reached for comment.
The animal’s origins remain a mystery.
Some 200 police, military officers and others are still searching for it. A helicopter buzzed over woods east of Paris and a dozen police vehicles lined a grassy area where the feline was spotted early Friday.
“He was also seen by truck drivers on the road,” Montevrain Mayor Christian Robache said.
Police officers guarded a school Friday morning as children arrived for class in Montevrain, the French town where the animal was first seen near a parking lot Thursday.
Tracks were spotted Friday morning near the A4 highway between the towns of Bussy-Saint-Georges and Ferrieres-en-Brie.
The regional administration asked drivers to take “the greatest precautions” on the highway, 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 gas station near the sighting was briefly closed.
Both sites where the animal or its tracks were seen are about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Disneyland Paris, one of Europe’s top tourist destinations. The operator of the theme park says it isn’t taking any special precautions because the loose animal isn’t deemed a threat. Disneyland Paris is surrounded by high walls to keep out intruders.
A wild cat 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 told BFM television 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.