Say what you will about the suburbs not being as quiet and family-friendly as they used to be in America, but folks can still walk out the door each morning without expecting to cross paths with a 400-pound, four-legged predator straight from the plains of South Africa. Or, at least, they could. Until recently. Strange occurrences and out-of-place animals are what I set out to follow when I started the "Wilder World Outdoors," and the news out of Milwaukee this week has been a proverbial honeypot.
Earlier this week, the Milwaukee police department began fielding calls about a large, free-roaming animal from a suburb in the northern part of the city. The callers were swearing that it looked like a lion. In Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Local authorities weren't exactly sure what to think, until a resident produced a cell phone video that very much does look like a big cat. It's embedded above.
What is it? Where is it? Why's it in Milwaukee? Why's the video grainier than the Patterson-Gimlin Bigfoot footage from 1967? These are all questions that the people want answered.
The original news broke on Monday, July 20. As of July 24, each of those questions remains unanswered. While occasional sightings have continued to be called in, no definitive conclusion has been reached. The lion hysteria, meanwhile, is in full swing. The Milwaukee County Zoo was quick to note that all of its big cats were accounted for. A concerned (and impossibly foolhardy) resident shot and wounded a large pit bull that he feared might be the predator. Fortunately, he isn't a very good shot. The dog's being cared for and isn't believed to have suffered life-threatening injuries. There's already bootleg "Milwaukee Lion" merchandise on sale and a #MilwaukeeLion hashtag on Twitter. Anything to get folks through the dog days of summer, right?
Local officials are treating the whole thing with a touch more seriousness, however. If there is a predator in the area, it could pose an immediate threat to, well... everything. Big cats tend to sit atop the food chain. The Wisconsin DNR has looked into the claims, and local law enforcement has responded to the reported sightings. Thus far, they've turned up no hard evidence.
No one's really sure what the thing is yet, either. The media has played the African lion card, because that offers more shock value. Other folks have countered that it's probably a big mountain lion. While the state maintains that mountain lions are not known to breed in Wisconsin, there have been a number of verified sightings in the last decade. It could be that the cat found its way to the city from parts unknown, and will soon be on its way back to the wild.
That said, an "Eye Test," of the video might leave you thinking twice. The unidentified feline object (UFO—see what I did there?) in question possesses a big body that has some speculating that it could be an exotic pet that's escaped or been set free by a negligent owner. Wisconsin apparently is known to have somewhat loose laws on private ownership of exotic species, which has kept the "African lion" theory in play. Hey, it happens. Remember, a few years back a guy killed a spotted leopard in Indiana. As ever, there's also the chance that this is all an elaborate hoax. Those happen, too.
For what it's worth, I asked our Senior Editor, Karen Mehall Phillips, what she thought upon seeing the video. Keep in mind that earlier this summer she was on safari. Her first instinct? African lion.
As of now, it's impossible to be sure. I'd encourage any readers from Milwaukee to be extra vigilant until the situation is resolved, however. Stay safe, folks.