Local authorities in Knoxville, Tenn. are on the prowl for an escaped tiger.
The wild animal was spotted in a park by an off-duty Knox County Sheriff’s Office Deputy on Wednesday night — and no one seems to know where it came from.
Deputy Andy Wilson was working a side job at Knoxville’s Industrial River Park when he reported a large cat coming out of the French Broad River, crossing the street and disappearing into the woods. "After a brief moment of shock, he realized it really was a tiger," Knox County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Kimberly Glenn told Knox News. "It went into a thick area of kudzu."
Animal control units and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) searched the area for hours to no avail. They even scanned the area from a helicopter and recruited the help of Tiger Haven, a no-kill big cat sanctuary located in nearby Kingston, Tennessee.
The tiger, which has not been caught yet, has also been spotted numerous times between its first sighting and Friday morning, according to local media outlet 5 News Online.
The Knoxville Zoo reported that it was not one of their animals and they had no further information about the prowling tiger. "We want to reassure everyone that our Zoo Knoxville Malayan tigers Arya, Bashir and Tanvir are all safely accounted for. Our team is standing by to assist if needed," the zoo wrote on Facebook.
"A trap baited with chicken was set last night but was pulled this afternoon due to inactivity and the subsequent report of the cat a few miles away," a spokesperson for the TWRA wrote told Knox News on Thursday. "A wildlife officer is actively looking for the animal at this time."
While the tiger does not belong to any official organization in the area, it could belong to a private owner, which is illegal in the state of Tennessee. A spokesperson from Tiger Haven sanctuary in the state said they have seen a rise in interest in illegal tiger ownership since the debut of “Tiger King” on Netflix.
If the animal is apprehended, it will be taken to Tiger Haven for care.
The sheriff’s office is reminding locals that the big cat should be considered dangerous and, if spotted, locals should document it from a safe distance and report the sighting.
Cailey Rizzo is a contributing writer for Travel + Leisure, currently based in Brooklyn. When in a new city, she's usually out to discover under-the-radar art, culture, and secondhand stores. No matter her location, you can find her on Twitter, on Instagram or at caileyrizzo.com.
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