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Wildlife officials say tiger sighting near Knoxville was 'likely a bobcat'

After a weeklong and widespread search, wildlife officials say they are no longer actively searching for the mysterious big cat.

A week after a widespread search for an alleged loose tiger in Knoxville, Tennessee, wildlife officials said they now believe the mysterious animal sighting was “likely a bobcat.”

Matthew Cameron, a spokesperson for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which led the tiger search, said in an email on Thursday that the tiger sighting was a case of “mistaken identity.”

“There haven't been any recent reports and there were no confirmed sightings,” he said. "A trap was initially set however it was removed after there was no activity."

Last Wednesday, a Knox county deputy reported seeing a large cat that appeared to be striped and between 150 to 200 pounds.

Phil Colclough, animal director at Zoo Knoxville, said that based on the deputy's description, if it was a tiger it would be “young.”

“A tiger like that is over a year old easily, but like I’ve said from the beginning, it was most likely a bobcat.”

Bobcats are common in eastern Tennessee, Colclough said, adding that it was completely reasonable for an average Joe to have mistaken the big cat for a tiger.

“A cat is a cat is a cat. They move the same and they hide the same,” Colclough said. “A young tiger could look like an adult bobcat.” Typically, he said, bobcats are more spotted than striped, and those in Tennessee are more grey.

Zoo Knoxville said Thursday that they did not report any missing tigers and all tigers were accounted for.

Tiger Haven, a big cat rescue in Kingston, did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the facility confirmed with Knoxville News Sentinel that they were not missing any tigers either, as of last Wednesday night.

While investigators have come up empty-handed in their tiger search, the mysterious cat has made an appearance someplace else: social media.

In response to a trap for the tiger, which contained a grocery-bought chicken, a Knoxville tiger joke account on Twitter said, “Lol, y’all actually think I will fall for that.”

Since removing the trap, Cameron said, "We are not continuing to search for the tiger."