SALEM, Ohio - Perry Township Police Chief Mike Emigh issued a warning to residents Tuesday after several people reported seeing a lioness wandering loose in Columbiana County.
Emigh made the announcement Tuesday afternoon after conferring with Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Officer Scott Angelo, regarding four separate sightings of the animal since last Wednesday. The reports came from an area stretching from Depot Road just south of Perry Township to Georgetown Road west of the Butler Township line.
"It appears from the description that it's a lioness," Emigh said.
The last sighting on Monday morning came from a sheriff's office dispatcher on her way home from work in the area of Georgetown Road and the Ohio 45 bypass, the chief said.
The dispatcher said the animal was big with a very long tail, but did not have a mane like male lions.
Emigh wants residents to be alert but not panic. If anyone sees it or something that looks like it, they should call 911, he said.
"Stay away from it - do not approach it. If possible, take a picture of it and call police," he said.
On the police department's Facebook page, a brief press release about the alert was issued asking anyone who sees the lion to call the Columbiana County Sheriff's Office at 330-424-7255 or just call 911.
The township is working with Angelo and ODNR to look for physical evidence of the animal's presence. That's why Emigh said it would be important for anyone who sees it to try to get a photo from the safety of their home or vehicle - until they get some type of physical evidence, they're not going to know for sure what's out there.
He said they're going to search in the areas where it's been seen to look for tracks or other evidence. He would also like to get a helicopter to search the fields from above.
According to Emigh, bobcats have been seen in the county, but they're smaller and don't have tails. He also addressed a question about whether the animal got loose from a local farm known to have some exotic pets, but he spoke with them and confirmed that they do not have a lion.
The police and ODNR have been promised assistance from the local humane officer and from Noah's Lost Ark, an animal sanctuary in Berlin Center, to tranquilize the animal if it is found. He said Noah's Lost Ark isn't missing any animals, either.
He also noted they haven't received any calls from local farmers about cattle or goats being killed.
"Nobody's calling saying they're missing anything. That's what's baffling," Emigh said.
He warned residents to keep an eye on their children, their pets and their livestock. He speculated the animal could be feeding on local wildlife, such as the deer population.
Karrin Campf, president of the Forever Safe Farm on McCracken Road outside Salem, said "we don't have a lion ... no tigers or bears."
The farm offers a safe haven for rescued animals. Campf said she is concerned about the alleged lion report because they have a lot of domesticated, friendly animals. She said they have an electric fence around their perimeter because they not only want to keep their animals in, they want to keep everything else out. There's a coyote population in the area.
"We take every precaution," she said.
She said people also need to keep in mind that there are mountain lions in Ohio.
At this point, police and Angelo don't know for sure what people are seeing, whether it's a mountain lion or some other type of lion.
Anyone with information that could be helpful should call the Sheriff's Office at 330-424-7255.