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Big, wild cat on the loose in France, not a tiger

Officials who had identified a wild animal spotted near a grocery store in a Paris suburb on Thursday morning as a tiger are now ruling that out, now saying it could be a lynx.

A two-day search by police and military forces for a wild animal roaming through French towns has come to one conclusion: it isn't a tiger.

One theory is that it could be a lynx, an extinct cat that was reintroduced to France in the 1970s.

But the public and Disneyland Paris, the main tourist attraction in the area, didn't seem too concerned on Friday by what officials were calling a security threat.

In fact, if the search doesn't capture the animal soon, locals could begin seeing it less as an invader and more like a harmless Pepé Le Pew, the French skunk.

Officials who had identified the cat spotted near a grocery store in a Paris suburb on Thursday morning as a panther tigris are now ruling that out.

The wild cat caught in several fuzzy photographs in the town of Montevrain was spotted again on Friday, but it has eluded 200 police and military forces.

Residents of Montevrain and two other nearby towns were urged to stay indoors — but most people seemed to be taking the cat hunt in stride.

One official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said "It's definitely not typical of the animals of this region."

One theory is that the mystery cat could be a lynx — the wild cat once omnipresent in France before being hunted out of existence. It was reintroduced in the 1970s, according to wildlife conservation group Ferus.

A 2003 survey by the National Office for Hunting and Wildlife estimated France's lynx population at about 170, located in mountainous areas of eastern France and the Alps. But the nearest known habitat, the Vosges Mountains, is 350 kilometers (215 miles) away from where the creature was spotted Thursday.

In a statement Friday afternoon, the regional administration near the search site said experts have concluded that the wandering animal isn't a tiger, but a feline of an unknown species.

France's national hunting office could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, some 200 police, military officers and others were still searching for the animal Friday.

A helicopter buzzed over woods east of Paris, and a dozen police vehicles lined a grassy area where the feline had been spotted earlier in the day.

"He was also seen by truck drivers on the road," said Christian Robache, the mayor of Montevrain. A Total gas station near the sighting was briefly closed.

Police officers guarded a school Friday morning as children arrived for class in the town.

The regional administration asked drivers to take "the greatest precautions" on the highway, a major artery between Paris and eastern France.

But the operator of the Disneyland Paris, which is surrounded by high walls, said it isn't taking special precautions because the animal isn't deemed a threat.

French tiger trainer Thierry Le Portier told BFM television that if the feline was raised by its mother it could be tough to catch. Raised by humans, it would be less distrustful but no less dangerous, he said.

"It can remain in hiding for a long time," he said, adding that it's "no problem" if the cat goes without eating for up to four days.

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Angela Charlton in Paris and Thibault Camus in Ferrieres-en-Brie contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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