FRENCH police guarded schools and warned motorists to be on their guard as the massive hunt for a big cat on the prowl near Disneyland Paris continued yesterday.
More than 200 police, military and wildlife experts in France were drafted in with helicopters and tracker dogs to hunt the big cat that has been prowling the area for at least 48 hours.
Specialist teams that footprints found near where it was spotted by lorry drivers cast doubt on it being an escaped tiger as was at first feared.
But the authorities were taking no chances. They spent the day warning motorists, locals and householders to be on the alert after a series of reported sightings near main roads..
Police officers guarded a school yesterday morning as children arrived for class in Montevrain, the French town where the animal was first seen near a car park on Thursday morning.
Tracks were spotted near the A4 trunk road between the towns of Bussy-Saint-Georges and Ferrieres-en-Brie, and the search for the animal was concentrated on that area.
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The regional administration asked drivers to take “the greatest precautions” on the road, a major link between Paris and eastern France.
The tracks were found five miles from where the big cat was initially seen, on the other side of the road.
Authorities warned nearby residents to stay in cars instead of walking on foot – and especially to avoid walks in the woods.
A Total petrol station near the sighting was briefly closed.
Both sites where the animal or its tracks were seen are about six miles from Disneyland Paris, one of Europe’s top tourist destinations.
The operator of the theme park is not taking any special precautions because the loose animal is not deemed a threat.
Disneyland Paris is surrounded by high walls to keep out intruders.
Animal experts have warned the animal would probably be at its most dangerous if and when it became hungry.
The beast was seen crossing a major road and slinked past a filling station near Disneyland Paris, authorities said.
A helicopter buzzed over the woods east of Paris and a dozen police vehicles lined a grassy area where the animal was spotted early yesterday.
Experts from the National Office of Hunting and Wild Animals that they were convinced they were dealing with a big cat species, “but we don’t know for sure its race”.
An official at the Seine-et-Marne regional administration said experts were basing their assessment on tracks spotted on Thursday and Friday in the Seine-et-Marne region east of Paris.
A wild cat animal park in the region, the Parc des Felins, said none of its cats were missing.
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