It appears that the only thing the French fear more than the sight of an American tourist approaching with a camera is a mysterious big cat on the loose. A maneater-hunt began last Thursday morning when a woman in Montévrain, a village very close to Disneyland Paris, photographed a large cat-like animal roaming in supermarket parking lot. While she told police “I think I’ve seen a lynx,” the word soon hit the media that a tiger was on the loose near Paris.
Police and firefighters arrived with tranquilizer guns, ordered residents to stay inside, found paw prints leading to nearby woods and called out a helicopter with geothermal sensors. Initial analysis of a footprint indicated a young tiger weighing about 150 pounds. A wild cat animal park in the region, the Parc des Felins, said none of its cats were missing and a circus that had just left town said all of its big cats were accounted for.
After a day of searching and more sightings, experts looking at the tracks determined they were not from a tiger but from a smaller cat, possibly the lynx the original spotter said it was if anybody had been listening to her. Lynx were common in France until being hunted to extinction in that country. It has since been reintroduced in small numbers in the Vosges Mountains, which is 215 miles away from Montévrain. While not a tiger, the Eurasian lynx is Europe’s third-largest predator after the bear and wolf.
As usual, the number of unconfirmed sightings went up while skeptics downgraded the big cat from a tiger to a lynx to an overweight housecat. Over 200 police, firefighters and military personnel were sent home, although the local police are still on alert.
So what is the mysterious big cat of Montévrain? An official from the Office for Hunting and Wildlife said it could be a European wildcat (felis silvestris silvestris), which is slightly larger than a house cat.
Then again, there’s the unresolved panther sightings in Marseille in 2004, southern Belgium in 2009 and southern France in 2013. Maybe they should keep the emergency number on speed dial.