Animal control workers in Milwaukee have set non-lethal traps baited with human food in the hopes of capturing a lion-like animal that several people have reported seeing.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and WISN-TV say the traps were placed in the area of the last confirmed sighting of the animal.
Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission executive director Karen Sparapani says it's likely the animal - possibly a mountain lion or cougar - is an escaped or released exotic pet and that it might respond to human food.
"A wild animal would've left Dodge a long time ago," she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "There's really nothing here: no quiet, there's no mates, and there's not really the free range and the privacy they like. If it was a wild animal, the thinking is it would not have enjoyed its stay and moved on. This one doesn't know where to go."
But not everyone agrees that this is an escaped pet.
Adrian Treves, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, told the Journal that in other parts of the country, including California and Colorado, wild mountain lions and coyotes have moved undetected through urban areas without causing problems, said
"I'm perfectly willing to believe that a wild mountain lion made its way into Milwaukee using those vegetated waterways and ravines to penetrate quite far into the city," he said. 'It's unusual behavior, but it happens. I'm not surprised."
According to Treves, large carnivores are "re-wilding," or repopulating their native habitats across the U.S. — a sign of successful conservation efforts and ecosystem recovery.
Sparapani says the creature will be sent to an animal sanctuary in Sharon if it's caught and that the traps will be monitored so other trapped animals can be freed.
Police said Tuesday that officers investigated more reported sightings of a large wildcat in recent days but didn't find anything.
On Sunday, police officers armed with rifles and Department of Natural Resources staff carrying tranquilizer guns searched a ravine and surrounding neighborhood for an elusive lion-like animal after police were among those who spotted big cat in Milwaukee.
Police called in canine units as they searched thick bushes near Lincoln Creek Sunday. Curious citizens joined in the search, even though police warned residents to stay away from the area where the animal was last spotted. Several sightings were reported Saturday night and Sunday, including at least two by police.
The animal was first spotted by a citizen Monday in a neighborhood at least five miles from where police were searching Sunday.
The Milwaukee Police Department issued a statement Tuesday, which reads in part:
As the media draws more attention to this story, it also appears that people are willing to take greater risks to find the animal on their own. The public is asked not to endanger themselves and to leave it to wildlife experts to photograph or capture the cat.
It remains a possibility that the cat is an escaped exotic pet and, with all of the media attention, the owner is reluctant to come forward. If this is the case, it is important the owner immediately call Milwaukee Police and provide information that can assist MPD in better protecting the community and the animal.