PARIS — Police officers were sent to guard schools, while hundreds of security officers scoured large areas near the French capital. Spooked drivers locked their car doors. Residents cowered at home, fearful that a menacing tiger would devour them whole.
But a little more than 24 hours after the French police began their frantic search, they concluded that the errant feline was no tiger but, possibly, a large or perhaps overweight domestic cat.
At a time of economic and political malaise, the French could use a diversion, and the renegade beast — first spotted in Montévrain, a town east of the capital not far from Disneyland Paris — captured the national imagination, while also stoking more than a little fear.
It may also have played into what commentators have said is a growing public anxiety, stemming from 14 illegal drone flights over French nuclear plants in recent weeks, raising concern about the security of the country’s main source of electricity. French authorities say they have no idea who was behind the mysterious flights.
Then came the reports of a large wild cat on the loose, slinking around the outskirts of the French capital and eluding a hunting squad that included officers armed with tranquilizer guns and a helicopter equipped with a thermal detector. As of Friday evening, they proved no match for the elusive cat, which officials estimated weighed at least 100 pounds, based on the size of its tracks.
The national agency for hunting and wildlife was quoted by Agence France-Presse as saying that the cat was not dangerous. “It is between a domestic cat and a larger feline,” said Eric Hansen, an official from the agency, who also ruled out that it was a lynx.
The police said dozens of sightings have been phoned in. One driver reported spotting the cat crossing the A4, a major highway, prompting the authorities to tell drivers and residents in the area not to leave their cars, or, worse, venture into the woods. The feline was also seen stalking a gas station and prowling near the parking lot of a supermarket, news reports said.
Overweight domestic cat?