June 6, 1996 in Nation/World

So Far, Lion Hunt Comes Up Empty Terrified Commuter Reports African Lion In West Spokane

Jeanette White Gita Sitaramiah Contri Staff writer

It was a bad day for spotting lion paw prints.

“You can’t tell because the ground’s so dry,” Jennifer Kline mumbled Wednesday, scouring the dirt along a west Spokane roadside.

The 500-pound African lion that reportedly terrified a woman driving to work eluded Kline and other animal-control officers.

But it kept children at a nearby grade school inside for recess. It rerouted horseback riders at Indian Canyon Riding Stables.

And it gave retirees at the Indian Canyon Golf Course plenty of fodder for bad jokes.

“As long as he’s got a 10-stroke handicap, we don’t care,” said Jack Hoisington, 78.

“Hell, we’ve got clubs!” shouted Wally Hofstrand, 78, swinging a pitching wedge above his head. “Heavy ones, too.”

Searchers weren’t so amused.

“My concern would be it doesn’t have a fear of humans,” said Nancy Sattin, director of Spokane County Animal Control. “And if it’s hungry, that’s double jeopardy.”

Sattin suspects the lion, spotted just before 6 a.m. on Canyon Drive, is someone’s pet. It escaped, she figures, or was dumped by someone tired of raising it.

Authorities received two calls from people who said they had spotted an African lion and another from a woman who said she may have heard the animal’s growls.

The lion first strolled off the golf course and crossed Canyon, forcing a woman to stop her car just 4 feet away. The lion was thin and the color of light coffee, the woman said. It had a mane and a tuft of fur on its tail.

“She said she had the windows rolled up,” said Sattin. “Tightly.”

Finally, the lion ambled away into the woods.

During the 2-1/2-hour search, Sattin left her dart gun in her pickup. She planned to call a veterinarian with stronger tranquilizers should the animal emerge.

The last report came Wednesday night. Lynn Stannard heard about the lion on the loose and wondered whether that explains the deep growls she’s been hearing outside her home at Sixth and Rimrock.

“I’ve been hearing it for four nights,” said Stannard, 30, who worries about her two young children, her chickens and cats. “My neighbors tease me because I said it sounds like demons.”

After talking to Stannard, authorities searched the immediate area and set a large trap baited with cat food. Late Wednesday, however, the lion had not been found.

The agency has never tracked an African lion before, although it has plenty of experience with cougars.

“It was frozen with fear on the pedestrian railway,” said Sattin.

She spent Wednesday afternoon on the telephone, asking experts how best to tranquilize a lion. The lion, a nocturnal animal, likely slept most of Wednesday, she said.

The folks at Great Northern Elementary didn’t take any chances. Students spent the warm, sunny day inside - recess and all.

The sighting was close enough to the school to frighten parents. “As the car goes, probably four miles,” said Superintendent Glenn Frizzell. “But as a lion trots, I don’t know.”

Riders at Indian Canyon Riding Stables left their normal paths to avoid suspected feline territory.

“We’ve all been keeping our eyes open,” said manager Mitch Mitchell. “We really would like to have that taken care of.”

Until the mystery lion is captured, experts have advice that sounds tough to follow. If you see the lion, don’t scream. Don’t run.

“It’ll consider anything moving as a potential threat. You’ve gotta treat it with respect,” said Lee Werle, mammal curator at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

“Back slowly away, facing the animal until you’re quite aways away,” said Sattin. “Then go immediately to a phone and call my department.”

People with information about the lion can call Sattin at 458-2532.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Jeanette White Staff writer Staff writer Gita Sitaramiah contributed to this report.

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