Vandals Release Cougars at Manitowoc's Lincoln Park Zoo

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MANITOWOC, Wis. (AP) -- Two cougars freed from the Lincoln Park Zoo by vandals were captured Thursday without injuring anyone, Mayor Kevin Crawford said.

Vandals cut some chain-link fencing overnight to free the two animals from their habitat. Both were found inside the zoo's outside fence, tranquilized and returned to their cages.

Crawford said he doesn't know whether the vandals were influenced by the Tuesday incident at the San Francisco Zoo in which a tiger escaped from its enclosure, killed one person and critically injured two others.

But he said police will seek whoever cut the fence to the big cats' habitat.

"These animals can't survive in the wild," he said. "They are raised for the purpose of education. People who think they are releasing these animals as a service to the animals are just wrong."

The cougars have been domesticated and expect their food to be brought to them, Crawford said.

But, he added, they still have killer instincts and could have threatened area residents had they escaped the zoo's perimeter fence.

A zookeeper noticed cougar footprints in the snow and discovered the animals' escape between 7 and 8 a.m., Crawford said. The zookeeper immediately locked the front gates and called authorities.

With the animals recaptured, Crawford said police will now focus on the search for the vandals.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)