Lion on the Loose? Officials Search for Big Cat

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SALEM, Ohio— Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife officers were combing a farm field in Perry Township Wednesday afternoon searching for any evidence of a big cat, after four reported sightings in the area over the past week. Officer Scott Angelo, who works in Columbiana County, was finding plenty of deer tracks, but no signs of a lion or a mountain lion. "With the weather that we're having, there should be imprints of whatever the animal was,"said Angelo. "It should have left tracks." Perry Township Police Chief Mike Emigh says his department first got a call from Depot Road. A school teacher who lives on the road was reportedly on her way to school last week, when she saw an animal she, at first, thought was a dog. Steve Sacco's family operates nearby Alchemy Acres Animal Sanctuary "(The school teacher) slowed down, rolled her window down to holler at the dog, thinking one of our dogs had gotten loose,"said Sacco. "The animal turned to look at her, and she realized, at that point, it was what she thought was a lion." The animal was described as rather large, having no mane and a long tail. Sacco says approximately 15 minutes later another report was phoned in by someone else who spotted a similar animal closer to his business. "We did get consecutive calls from two different people in two different areas that are very close together," said Sacco's daughter Sarah Sacco-Olson, who says the two calls so close together gives some validity to the reports. The most recent call came from a Columbiana County Sheriff's Office dispatcher who was on her way to work, near Georgetown Road and Route 45, less than two miles from Depot Road. According to Perry Township Police Chief Mike Emigh, (the dispatcher) almost hit the animal. "She saw an animal, in her words, that was goldish brown in color, very slim and long, with a very long tail," said Emigh, who adds it was not a domestic cat. "No, and I don't believe there's any chance of it being a bobcat since they have no tails." "It's kind of exciting to think that there might be a wild cougar or mountain lion out there," said Julie Sacco. "It's also frightening because of the children and the pet population in the area, so there are two sides of it there." While authorities are taking the sightings seriously, they also remain skeptical. A local animal sanctuary has not had any lions, and there are no farm animals or pets missing. Salem Humane Officer Sue Davidson says she personally checked out each of the locations and found geese, deer and other wildlife behaving normally -- something she would not expect them to do if there were a predator in the area. "I never would rule out the possibility of being an actual, you know, maybe a mountain lion or something like that; but we have not received any solid, physical evidence," said Angelo. The description of the animal closely resembles multiple reports of a big cat that started closer to Canton to the west this past summer. Bill Ecrement, of Washington Township, just 17 miles due west, photographed a large cat on his property that he shared with Fox 8 News in July. "It could be possible it's the same one roaming, but I don't know," said Chief Emigh, adding, "It appeared to be a mountain lion, panther, puma -- however you want to call it up in this area." Chief Emigh was cautioning local residents to be alert, and to try and take a picture of the animal if they see it -- if it is safe to do so. In any case, residents are urged to report sightings to authorities. "Most of the sightings have been right prior to dawn in the dark hours. We know they are nocturnal just like most wildlife. My concern is if it is a predator it is a predator of opportunity," said Emigh. "I think everybody's looking, hoping to kind of get a glimpse of it and everybody's trying to get a picture," said Julie Sacco. Angelo says his primary concern is public safety, but the ODNR does not want people to become overly concerned.