Loose Lion Terrorizes Village in Brazil|Richard_F|richard@cfz.org.uk|09/01/04 at 03:24:36|richard_f|xx|0||Loose Lion Terrorizes Village in Brazil

[Associated Press/AP Online]

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Police were searching on Friday for a lion that reportedly has terrorized a small village in northeastern Brazil for a week. Residents lock their doors when darkness falls in Santa Barbara, about 700 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro. The local school suspended classes for fear the animal would attack students.

Lions are not native to Brazil. The biggest feline in this hemisphere is the jaguar.

But residents said the animal was a lion, which appeared to be sick and very hungry. It was spotted eating chickens and cats, said Damiana de Sousa Estrela, a receptionist at the Santa Barbara police station.

Federal wildlife officials said the animal possibly was a jaguar, which is native to the region although increasingly rare.

"There's certainly a predator in the region attacking livestock. But if it's a lion or a jaguar, we still don't know," said Augusto Morelli, of the federal environmental protection agency, Ibama.

If the animal is a lion, it was likely abandoned by a traveling circus, Morelli said. He planned to capture the animal within the next few days.