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Lion Fever in Philly Suburbs

January 6, 1995

YEADON, Pa. (AP) _ The door of the school office was framed by first graders’ drawings of lions, children wrote lion stories and the principal played ``The Lion Sleeps Tonight″ over the public address system.

A day after residents reported seeing a lion prowling the Philadelphia suburbs, tension and fear had turned to excitement and humor Thursday at the Walnut Street Elementary School in Darby.

After all, police had given up their search and Yeadon Police Chief Robert Smythe had said the animal probably wasn’t even a lion.

But around 3 p.m., police officer Michael Dolly was on his normal patrol when he spotted a 100-pound mountain lion in the woods near a Yeadon parochial school _ and lion fever swept the area again.

Dolly said the cougar, wearing a collar and chain, dashed down a ravine.

``I really didn’t think I was going to see anything because I didn’t believe it,″ said Dolly, who had no doubt that he had seen a real lion. ``I’ve seen enough of them in the zoos and such.″

Police searched the woods along a creek between the St. Louis School and Mount Moriah Cemetery. An animal control officer combed the area with a shotgun and Borough Manager Peter Brusco scanned the trees _ a favorite spot for pouncing cougars.

More than a dozen motorists stopped along a bridge overlooking the creek to watch. Others drove into the cemetery asking if the lion had been caught.

``When we were doing our walk through the park, there were civilians all over the place,″ Brusco said. ``We really didn’t have a clear line of fire as far as I could see.″

Police suspended the search at dark and planned to return this morning, possibly with dogs.

Brusco said Dave Wood, a curator at The Philadelphia Zoo, would be available to shoot a tranquilizer dart. But if the animal attacks, officers will probably shoot to kill.

By the time the lion was spotted, children at the St. Louis School had gone home. Police were planning to post officers at the school this morning.

On Wednesday, about 10 residents reported seeing or hearing the lion. One woman said it rummaged through her garbage, roared at her and left. Walnut Elementary teachers made sure no students walked home, and they rode on buses with children whose parents couldn’t pick them up.

None of that convinced Betty Beebe, however, who said she wouldn’t believe a lion was loose until she saw it.

Karen Markee, however, was more accepting.

``Weird things happen in southwest Philly,″ she said. ``I wouldn’t be surprised.″