France 'tiger': Hunt scaled back after tracks inspection

image copyrightAFP
image captionSightings of the animal triggered a big search and a media frenzy

French police have scaled back the hunt for a stray big cat in Paris after scotching initial reports that the animal is a tiger.

It was first spotted at Montevrain, 38km (23 miles) east of Paris.

Sightings of the animal sparked a search involving hundreds of emergency services workers, animal-trackers and a helicopter.

But experts now say the animal is most likely a much less dangerous animal, such as a lynx or large domestic cat.

They made their conclusions based on inspecting animal tracks.

image copyrightCourtesy of Julie Berdeaux
image captionA photo purporting to show the animal

It remains unclear where the animal came from, though there is a big cat park near Montevrain.

A source told AFP that the search had been scaled back for the moment and the helicopter grounded, although forces remained "mobilised" in case of a fresh alert.

The BBC's Hugh Schofield in Paris says police had suggested there was probably not too much to worry about, but the authorities still sent out officers with guns and tranquilisers.

Community alert

The hunt has focused on areas near the Disneyland Paris theme park.

There was a fresh alert on Friday morning after paw prints were discovered near a service station east of Paris.

To reach there, the animal had apparently crossed the A4 motorway.

Police guarded the entrances to schools in the Montevrain area in case the cat turned up, as a helicopter with thermal imaging hovered.

Local residents were asked to stay indoors and parents urged to take their children to and from school by car.

A dozen or so soldiers from a nearby army base joined police and fire officials combing the countryside outside Montevrain.

image copyrightAP
image captionPaw prints were discovered near a Paris service station
image copyrightAP
image captionPolice with tranquiliser guns have been searching a wood in Montevrain

A huntsman, officially designated as a "wolf catcher", who has a specially trained dog, was also part of the search team.

The owner of the lntermarche supermarket in Montevrain said on Thursday that his wife had spotted the animal at about 08:30 (07:30 GMT).

"She didn't get out of the car and called me to say 'I think I saw a lynx'," he was quoted as saying. The woman took a photograph that appears to show a large cat.

Le Parisien newspaper said several local residents had sighted the animal.

The Montevrain mayor's office dismissed the idea that the big cat could have escaped from a circus that was in the town until Saturday, Le Parisien reported.

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