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African lioness in Norwalk? Experts analyzing grainy video

Is there an African lion roaming Norwalk? Experts analyzing surveillance footage

Is it a large hybrid cat, leopard or an old dog with an off gait? Even more intriguing, could it be -- as some experts are speculating -- an African lioness?

Grainy surveillance footage of the large animal strolling across a driveway late at night is fast becoming Norwalk's version of Bigfoot.

The footage -- posted on the city of Norwalk's Facebook page -- shows what looks like a large cat strolling across a driveway in the 11500 block of Tina Street about 3:44 a.m. Tuesday.

But the poor quality of the footage is making it difficult to determine what exactly it is.

"We didn't know what to think," city spokesman Jeff Hobbs said.

Neither do the experts, at least for now.

Craig Packer -- a professor at the University of Minnesota Lion Research Center and author of “Into Africa” -- said after examining the footage: "Yes, it certainly does look like an African lion. It’s not a cougar.”

Experts at San Diego Zoo agreed that the animal "does not look like a mountain lion," but that's about all, spokeswoman Christine Simmons said.

"We cannot positively identify the animal in the video as it is difficult to tell scale, and the video is not clear," she said.

The animal, she added, has the appearance of a big cat, but could be "some kind of hybrid." 

Don Nelson, a game warden with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, was surveying the site Friday afternoon and said he did not come across anything that would have indicated a mountain lion had passed through.

"My guess is it's a large older dog, maybe a pit bull or part pit bull," he said. "There was nothing pointing toward 'mountain lion.'"

Joel Almquist said after reviewing the video in further detail numerous times, he said it looked more like a leopard.

The cat’s movement, height of 22 to 24 inches and ears, which he said aren’t as dropping as he thought, indicate it is a leopard.

Joel Almquist -- executive director and founder of the Forever Wild Exotic Animal Sanctuary, which houses one lioness -- said that after reviewing the footage repeatedly, he at first thought it was a dog. But upon closer inspection, said he thought it was leopard, noting its movement and height.

He also compared the image of the animal to two of his own male leopards.

On Friday, no one answered the door at the home where the surveillance footage was taken, but Nelson noted that the footage distorts how big the animal actually was. A security sign on the lawn that the animal passes at equal height is no taller than 2 feet, he added.

Still, Dale Anderson, executive director and founder of the Project Survival Cat Haven in Dunlap, Calif. -- a big cat sanctuary -- reviewed the video and said the animal appeared to be an African lion, pointing to its gait and physical characteristics. 

The big cat sanctuary has two African lions. 

Anderson said professionals who deal with big cats, not law enforcement, should immediately respond to the area.

"This is not something we take lightly," he said.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife was investigating the footage and had made no official determination, said agency spokeswoman Janice Mackey.

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sgt. Ralph Gama, meanwhile, said the animal hasn't been spotted since Tuesday night, but added that deputies are on alert. Authorities were canvassing the area with fliers informing residents on how to react in an encounter with a big animal.

If the animal in the footage turns out to be an African lion, it's unclear where it may have come from.

Anderson said a lion on the loose would probably have been kept as a pet, which he said is rare in California, where strict rules exist for owners of exotic animals.

"If a lion is out there like that, it shouldn't be happening," he said.

For breaking news in Los Angeles and throughout California, follow @VeronicaRochaLA. She can be reached at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

 

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times

UDPATE

4:15 p.m.: This post was updated to reflect Joel Almquist's new opinion after reviewing the footage further.

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