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Escaped Lioness, Clawless But Hungry, Captures Attention

Wed., Dec. 17, 1997

In the land of the Mouse, there’s a lion on the loose.

A few miles down the road from Walt Disney World, amid a jungle of T-shirt shops and fast-food joints, a 450-pound African lion named Nala got spooked when workers tried to move her away from flooding.

She burst from her cage at a private zoo and all day Tuesday eluded a high-tech safari armed with heat-seeking infrared radar and night vision goggles.

Officers had orders to shoot to kill if tranquilizer darts failed or if the animal menaced anyone.

“It’s scared. It’s disoriented. It’s wet, cold and hungry,” said Lt. Tom Quinn of the Florida Game and Fresh Water Commission.

“It has no claws. It doesn’t know how to hunt. It’s a threat only if it is provoked or cornered.”

Authorities went door to door warning people in the area and advising them not to approach the animal if they saw it. “She’s beautiful,” said Kathy Somar, 45, who goes to JungleLand every week to visit Nala, named for the girlfriend of leading lion Simba in Disney’s “Lion King” movie.

Most residents and tourists took the episode in stride.

“Finally the rain stopped … and now there’s a lion on the loose,” said tourist Connie Miller. “It’s sure not a dull place to go.”

“We’re used to lions,” added her husband, Mark. “But the ones we’re used to wear Honolulu blue and silver uniforms.” The Millers are from Detroit.

“I’m not scared,” said Kimberly Cortez, 17, a high school junior climbing off the school bus about 100 yards from searchers. “But I am scared for my dog.”


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