PARIS — Scores of police patrolled a small town west of the French capital on Thursday night after a tiger eluded a massive search and remained on the prowl in the region near Disneyland Paris.
The small beast was spotted Thursday morning near a parking lot in Montevrain by a woman who snapped a photo of it.
Still on the loose by nightfall, some began to doubt whether it really was a tiger.
The Parc des Felins, a wild cat animal park 29 kilometers (18 miles) from Montevrain, said none of its cats are missing.
EuroDisney, the operator of Disneyland Paris, a top tourist destination in Europe, went out of its way to say the theme park has no tigers.
But authorities remained on alert.
Montevrain said 100 police would patrol the town of less than 10,000 overnight and the search for the animal would begin anew Friday. However, a helicopter with infrared equipment was to continue combing the area overnight, according to Cedric Tartaud, top aide to 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 also were being guarded ahead of Friday classes.
Nearly 200 police, gendarmes, rescuers with tranquilizing guns and a specially trained dog searched the area Thursday. Authorities urged people in Montevrain, nearby Chessy and Chalifert to stay indoors, and children were escorted home from school.
The animal was spotted about 8:30 a.m. by the wife of supermarket manager Jean-Baptiste Berdeaux, who told BFM-TV she initially thought it was a lynx. She snapped the photo of it standing on a ridge above a parking lot.
An examination of a muddy footprint showed it was a tiger weighing about 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and about 1 ½ years old, said Clement Joly, a Montevrain spokesman.
But at nightfall, top officials were no longer using the word “tiger.”
“All forces are mobilized to capture this animal,” Montevrain 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 Thursday, saying a young tiger was spotted in the brush behind tennis courts and a soccer field about 9 kilometers (5 1/2 miles) from Disneyland Paris.
However, officials at the theme park, which calls itself Europe’s No. 1 tourist destination, said no special precautions were taken Thursday inside the park because the loose animal wasn’t deemed a threat.