Wildlife officials say Knoxville tiger could be case of mistaken identity

Local News

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency officials say reports of a tiger may be a case of mistaken identity.

The Knox County Sheriff’s Office issued an alert for a tiger late Wednesday night after an off-duty deputy reported spotting the animal in southeast Knoxville.

TWRA said Friday the search for the animal was no longer active after an investigation that included several law enforcement agencies, helicopters and a humane bear trap baited with rotisserie chicken.

With no reported sightings of a tiger from the public since Thursday, Matt Cameron with the TWRA said on Monday it may not be a tiger at all.

We believe it may be a case of mistaken identity. Although bobcats are common across the area, they are rarely seen. In low light conditions, they can resemble a tiger cub.

Matt Cameron, TWRA

While similar in color and markings, bobcats and tigers do have notable differences.

TWRA spokesperson Matt Cameron says size is a big one. A tiger cub is the same size as a full grown bobcat. The markings may look similar from afar, but bobcats have spots on their outer coat and streak-like markings on their underbellies. Tigers are all stripes.

Cameron says it’s unlikely that it was a big cat that someone had as a pet.

“Illegal possession of large cats is very uncommon. The only way large cats can be possessed are by permitted zoos and educational institutions. There is no private possession of large cats allowed in the state of Tennessee,” Cameron said.

Since bobcats are nocturnal, it’s rare to see one during the day, but if you do, TWRA officials
say to act the same way as if you saw a bear. Do not approach and call 911.

Knox County dispatch said a report of an unconfirmed sighting of the tiger near Bales Lane/ Thorngrove Pike/Gov. John Sevier Highway in East Knoxville was made Thursday morning.

TWRA officials also said Friday they’ve found no hide nor hair in the area of the suspected sightings.

If captured, it will be taken to Tiger Haven in Kingston. Tiger Haven confirmed they are not missing any animals. Zoo Knoxville and the Little Ponderosa Zoo also confirmed Thursday that all of their tigers are accounted for.


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