Scores of police are patrolling a small town west of the French capital after a tiger was reported to be on the prowl in the region near Disneyland Paris.
A small beast was spotted yesterday morning near a car park in Montevrain by a woman who snapped a photo of it.
The animal has so far eluded a massive search and by nightfall some began to doubt whether it really was a tiger.
The Parc des Felins, a wild cat animal park 18 miles from Montevrain, said none of its cats are missing, and EuroDisney, the operator of Disneyland Paris, went out of its way to say the theme park has no tigers.
But authorities remain on alert. Montevrain said 100 police would patrol the town of fewer than 10,000 people overnight and the search would begin again in the morning.
However, a helicopter with infrared equipment is combing the area overnight, according to Cedric Tartaud, a spokesman for the mayor.
“We ask you for the greatest prudence,” Montevrain told its residents on the town’s Facebook page.
Entrances to the town’s schools are being guarded ahead of classes.
Nearly 200 police, rescuers with tranquilliser guns and a specially trained dog searched the area yesterday. Authorities urged people in Montevrain, Chessy and Chalifert to stay indoors, and children were escorted home from school.
The wife of supermarket manager Jean-Baptiste Berdeaux spotted the animal, and told BFM-TV she initially thought it was a lynx. She snapped the photo of it standing on a ridge above a car park.
An examination of a muddy footprint showed it was a tiger weighing about 154lb and about 18 months old, said Clement Joly, a Montevrain spokesman.
But by nightfall, senior officials were no longer using the word tiger.
“All forces are mobilised to capture this animal,” Mayor Christiani t Robache told reporters on BFM-TV.
The under-prefect for the Seine-et-Marne region, Frederic MacKain, said the fuzzy photo “leads us to believe it’s the silhouette of a feline”.
The wooded region dotted with small towns provides abundant cover for any wild animal to hide.
Montevrain sent out a news alert on its Facebook page yesterday, saying a young tiger was spotted in the brush behind tennis courts and a football field about five miles from Disneyland Paris.
However, officials at the theme park said no special precautions were taken inside the park because the loose animal was not deemed a threat.