FRENCH police have launched a major search operation for what locals fear could be a "young tiger" on the loose in a community outside Paris.
A picture purporting to show the animal was posted on an online community page for the town of Montevrain in the Seine-et-Marne department, east of the capital.
A helicopter, police and firefighters armed with tranquiliser guns were reported to be on the scene, while the authors of the community page warned local residents to "exercise caution" and avoid a "perimeter" area that had been sealed off.
An examination of a muddy footprint showed that the tiger weighs about 70 kilograms (154 pounds) and is about 1 year's old, said Clement Joly, a Montevrain spokesman.
Authorities in Seine-et-Marne later urged people living in three towns - Montevrain, Chessy and Chalifert - to remain indoors. If they had to travel, police said, they should avoid doing so on foot and stay in their cars.
After school classes ended, children in the town were accompanied home.
Jean-Baptiste Berdeaux, a local supermarket manager, was quoted by the AFP News Agency saying that his wife "saw [the animal] this morning", adding that she had said it might be "a lynx".
And though there were initial reports that an animal might have escaped from a circus that passed through the town last week local officials dismissed the idea.
The mayor's office told Le Parisien: "The circus left on Saturday and during the health inspection before the event officials did not notice the presence of a tiger."
The apparent sighting of the animal took place around two miles from Disneyland Paris.
EuroDisney, the operator of Disneyland Paris, told the Associated Press it has no tigers in the theme park - so the errant cat could not have come from them.
The Parc des Felins, a wild cat animal park 29 kilometers (18 miles) from Montevrain, said that all of its animals were accounted for.
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