Search called off for African lion in El Paso County | AspenTimes.com
Colleen Slevin
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

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Search called off for African lion in El Paso County

DENVER ” Authorities called off a search for an African lion reportedly seen in eastern El Paso County on Monday unsure if there really ever was a big cat roaming the plains.

Search dogs failed to find a scent for a lion in the area 15 miles east of Colorado Spring and wildlife officials couldn’t agree on whether grainy photos taken of the animal showed a lion or a big dog, El Paso County sheriff’s spokeswoman Lt. Lari Sevene said.

“It’s about 50-50,” Sevene said of the experts’ opinions.

Adding to the mystery were tracks found in a dirt roadway that looked like they could belong to a lion and tracks nearby that looked more like a dog’s, Sevene said. An officer took photos of the tracks but they were soon erased by tire tracks.

Colorado Division of Wildlife spokesman Michael Seraphin said the four Colorado wildlife sanctuaries that are permitted to have lions, including the nearby Big Cats of Serenity Springs, all said their lions are accounted for.

Sevene said the lion was first reported at about 8 a.m. by a resident who said the cat had a red mane and a big tail. About an hour later, someone else spotted the lion and was able to take photos of the animal.

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After authorities made reverse 911 calls to nearby residents, Seraphin said a 17-year-old called to report that he had seen what looked to be a lion near his house.

Experts from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs and a police helicopter were brought in to help the search in the area dotted with ranches and a mobile home park. Seraphin said three residents also got on horseback, lassos drawn, and helped look for the lion in a field where much of the search was focused.

Sevene said authorities couldn’t justify continuing the search, but added that residents should stay on the look out for anything suspicious. She said even finding out that it was all a mistake would have been a better ending to the search.

“I would rather have either found a dog, or found a lion. We hate to leave it up in the air,” she said.