A cheetah on the loose in British Columbia’s Interior is still unaccounted for after it was last spotted roaming a snowy highway in the Kootenay region last week.
Conservation officers are urging people to phone in any tips or sightings of the big cat.
RCMP notified the public on Thursday that the feline had been seen wandering near Crawford Bay, about 50 kilometres northeast of Nelson.
Area residents and staff at Crawford Bay School were notified Thursday about a cheetah spotted on a nearby highway, said Principal Laury McPherson.
McPherson said students at the elementary and secondary school will stay indoors during recess and lunch.
She said the children are generally excited about the chance to see a cheetah in the area where wild animals, such as bears, are not uncommon.
“Some of the little ones are a little bit worried because a cheetah is exotic. So we’ve talked about what you do when you encounter a cougar or a cheetah, like making yourself large.”
RCMP in Creston said the cheetah was spotted along Highway 3A on Thursday at about 4:30 p.m., in the Crawford Bay and Kootenay Bay areas.
A motorist who saw the animal sent photos to police. The witness told RCMP the animal appeared to be wearing an orange cloth collar.
Insp. Joe Caravetta of the B.C. Conservation Officer Service said Friday that three officers are hunting for the cat and also looking for its owner.
He said the provincial wildlife veterinarian doesn’t believe the public is at risk but the situation is being treated seriously.
“We want to be able to find this cheetah and for its own health and benefit be able to capture it and get it to a facility and have it checked out,” Caravetta said in an interview from Cranbrook.
“It could be hungry, and any animal that is hungry may do things that may not be in its character.”
Caravetta said cheetahs are typically shy and less aggressive than other big cats, but noted the animal is out in the cold rather than in its normal tropical habitat.
He said staff are trying to determine if anyone in the area has registered the cheetah, adding the jungle cats are legally allowed with a permit.
“It could simply be a pet, but at this point we haven’t been able to talk to the potential custodian.”
RCMP Cpl. Dan Moskaluk said people should keep a close eye on small children and pets until the animal is located.
“Regardless of it having a collar on, it should be considered and respected as a wild animal.”
A spokeswoman for the Calgary Zoo says the B.C. government asked late last week whether the Alberta facility would be willing to house a cheetah.
Trish Exton-Parder says no further news has been received but the zoo has the proper permits and would be happy to help if the animal is found.
B.C.’s Forests Ministry says only the Vancouver Zoo has permission to possess a cheetah in B.C. but that another permit had been applied for in the Kootenays and was under review.