Tiger on the loose? Deputy’s claim triggers major search in Tennessee

An Indian Bengal tiger is shown in this file photo from Jan. 28, 2006. Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty Images

If you catch a tiger by the tail — or simply catch a glimpse of it from a safe distance — please take a photo and give police a call.

Authorities in Knoxville, Tenn., launched a major man tiger hunt on Thursday after a Knox County sheriff’s deputy reported seeing one very out-of-place predator late Wednesday night.

The deputy allegedly spotted a tiger in the Forks of the River Industrial Park, a business area near a forested zone in the southeastern part of Knoxville, according to a police statement.

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Deputy Andy Wilson was working a side job in the area when he claims he saw the tiger climb out of the nearby French Broad River, sheriff’s office spokesperson Kimberly Glenn told Knox News. The tiger then allegedly crossed the street and disappeared into the woods around 8:30 p.m.

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“After a brief moment of shock, he realized it really was a tiger,” Glenn said. “It went into a thick area of kudzu.”

Wilson said he hadn’t fallen asleep or imagined it. It was a tiger, he told the sheriff’s office.

The sighting remains unconfirmed and the local zoo and tiger shelter are not missing any big cats, they told local station WBIR.

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“We want to reassure everyone that our Zoo Knoxville Malayan tigers Arya, Bashir and Tanvir are all safely accounted for,” Zoo Knoxville wrote on Facebook Thursday.

The sheriff’s office, local animal control, the Tiger Haven animal sanctuary and state wildlife officials all joined the search for the animal early Thursday, as rumours and concern spread throughout the city and across the internet.

No one had captured any photos of the alleged tiger by Thursday afternoon.

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Three more sightings were reported on Thursday morning, police dispatchers told local station WVLT. All three sightings were in the area of Thorngrove Pike, which lies about 12 kilometres east of the Forks of the River.

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The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) says it only received one reported sighting in that area, but the agency set up a bear trap in the area and baited it with a chicken on Thursday afternoon in hopes of luring the beast.

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It’s illegal to own a tiger in Tennessee. However, officials have dealt with the occasional wannabe Tiger King in the past, the TWRA says.

Mary Lynn Parker, who co-owns the Tiger Haven no-kill shelter, says she’s standing ready to house the wayward tiger, if it does exist.

“We have all the proper equipment to transport and house a tiger,” Parker told Knox News. “So if it was caught, we’d be able to load it in the truck and bring it to the sanctuary.”

The sheriff’s office is urging anyone who sees the tiger to give them a call.

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