Wild mountain lions haven't roamed Maryland for almost 200 years, but Baltimore County police and state wildlife officials were beating the bushes in a Randallstown field last night in search of one.
At least three people claimed they saw a mountain lion in a field in the 3700 block of Burmont Avenue -- a residential area where deer and squirrels might be found, but certainly not lions, tigers or bears.
Police sent a helicopter to scan the area, and the state Department of Natural Resources' Forest, Park and Wildlife Service set out a trap. But no lion was found.
"We're treating it like it's there," said Bob Beyer, associate director of the wildlife service.
If it is a mountain lion, the chances are it's a captive animal that has either escaped or been set loose, he said.
"The descriptions match what a cougar would look like," Mr. Beyer said. "Of course everyone knows what a cougar looks like. It could be just a dog."
Brian A. Rutledge, director of the Baltimore Zoo, said wild mountain lions are still found in parts of Texas and eastern Colorado. But they haven't lived in Maryland since the late 1700s, Mr. Rutledge said.
"If it's here, the odds are very good that it's an escaped captive animal," he said. "There are big cats in private hands all over the place."
Mr. Beyer said wildlife officers would be combing the area around the field today for tracks or other physical evidence of a big cat.
While cougars are typically shy, secretive animals that would be afraid to approach a human, a captive cat may behave quite differently, Mr. Beyer said. "That's more scary than a truly wild cat. An animal like this may not be afraid of humans."