Escaped Lion Eludes Searchers
Dec. 16, 1997
KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) _ It was a cat-and-mouse game Tuesday as wildlife officers searched for a 450-pound lion that escaped from a roadside zoo near Disney World.
Agents searched by air and land for Nala, named for a character in ``The Lion King,'' in a wooded swamp surrounded by hotels, restaurants and expensive homes.
The full-grown female lion escaped Monday from JungleLand Zoo while her handlers were trying to fix her cage to raise her and other big cats above flooded ground.
The 2 1/2-year-old lion was spotted from a helicopter around midday Tuesday, only about 100 yards from the zoo, but the soggy ground and thick vegetation made it impossible to reach her quickly from the ground.
By late afternoon, officers had lost sight of the animal from the air because of the canopy of lush pines and cypresses and the reflection of the murky water.
Residents and tourists were put on alert, but officials described the lioness as hand-raised, declawed and very sociable.
``She loves the public,'' said Kathy Bacon, the zoo's marketing director. ``She loves the kids. When they come here, she hams it up.''
An infrared sensor was attached to the helicopter to detect the lion's body heat. On the ground, about 20 agents with tranquilizer guns and rifles patrolled the area of thorny vines and 4-foot-deep water.
Residents of a neighborhood behind JungleLand were told to stay inside and not walk their dogs, but few heeded the warning. Neighbors said they had grown accustomed to hearing the lions and other animals roar at night, safely in their cages.
Amy Steele, who lives in a ranch-style house next to the swamp, said her husband walked her poodle in the back yard while carrying a pistol, just in case.
``I feel sorry for the poor thing,'' Mrs. Steele said. ``Maybe it could mate with a Florida panther.''