Lion On Loose May Be 'Big Dog'
Photos Taken, Tracks Found But Search Called Off
POSTED: 9:45 am MDT July 14, 2008
UPDATED: 1:15 am MDT July 15, 2008
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The reports of an African lion at large that spurred a helicopter search, a reverse-911 call to the neighborhood and a nearly eight-hour hunt by local, state and federal wildlife trackers may be false.
The "African lion" pictured in grainy photos may have just been a large dog, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office said Monday afternoon.
However, that too has not been confirmed since no large dog -- and no lion -- has been captured. A search in eastern El Paso County, focusing on a field about a mile-and-a-half square, was called off Monday afternoon.
The El Paso County Sheriff's Office suspended the search at about 3 p.m., saying there isn't enough evidence to corroborate reports of an African lion roaming the area.
Three different people reported seeing a lion Monday morning. Search dogs haven't been able to pick up a scent for a lion and none of the searchers ever spotted it.However, DOW's Michael Seraphin told the Colorado Springs Gazette earlier in the day that the two photos taken by residents and the tracks found by DOW officers confirm the animal is an African lion and not a mountain lion.
El Paso County Sheriff's Lt. Lari Sevene said the first call came in of a large cat chasing several dogs through a field off Log Road. That call came in at 7:35 a.m. The resident told deputies the cat had a red mane and a big tail. Officers obtained a photo of the big cat. A second sighting was reported and that resident also snapped a picture.
A reverse-911 alert went out to residents in the Falcon Highway and Log Road area. The automated phone call warned residents to stay inside and keep pets indoors because a lion was possibly on the loose. A second reverse-911 call went out when the search was called off.
State wildlife officers found big paw prints near a home, but no other tracks were found.
Big Cats of Serenity Springs, a sanctuary that houses lions, tigers, leopards and other animals about 5 miles away, told 7NEWS that none of its cats are missing and they have checked several times. The wildlife center's owner and director, Nick Sculac, said he believes that if it was a lion, the lion was someone's pet that got loose.
However, after looking at one of the photos handed out by the sheriff's office, he said he believed the animal could be a large dog.
Three other wildlife sanctuaries that are permitted to have lions all say their lions are accounted for.
Imported and exotic species brought into Colorado are regulated. Some are legal with permits; some are prohibited.
The area of the sightings is sparsely populated, with pockets of mobile homes and livestock.
"We figure he's probably just taking a nap right now," said Sevene, when no animal was spotted for hours. The animal was last spotted around 10 a.m., about a mile southwest of the original sighting.
The search for the big cat involved the sheriff's office, the Colorado Springs Police Department, the Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Staff members from Serenity Springs stayed in the area to help authorities track the animal. Sculac had brought a tranquilizer gun in hopes of taking the animal alive.
At one point in the search, some residents strapped on revolvers, while others searched on horseback with lassos at the ready, according to the Gazette.