BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP - Stow away the pith helmet and the caravan. Barnegat Township won't be featured soon on "Animal Planet." Rumors of a tiger running loose in town remain, alas, rumors.


Police tell us their switchboard lit up early, often and urgently this morning after chatter surfaced on several social network sites, including Facebook, warning of big jungle cats that might be lurking in wooded spots around the township.

Barnegat Police Lieutenant Keith Germain says they attribute the misleading info to two unrelated factors: Firstly, an animal breeder in the township is raising housecats called Bengals; and secondly, large paw prints found Thursday in some woods needed some investigation. Police took a look and called in fish and game experts.

"Fish And Game had told us that they belonged, probably, to a very large dog," says Germain. "Certainly not to any type of wild animal not indigenous to the area."

However, he adds, the two components led some to "put two and two together, and get six."

As wild as it might seem, there are reasons why this kind of a rumor could flourish in Barnegat. Nearby Lacey Township is home to Popcorn Park Zoo, where exotic animals of many kinds sit side-by-side with dogs and cats, all healing from abuse. And until late 2003, Joan Byron Marasek - Jackson Township's famous "Tiger Lady" - raised and kept a menagerie of big cats, over time creating varying crises involving public safety and public health.

"Back in Jackson, years back," recounts Germain, "the same scenario took place with Jackson Police and some loose tigers out there." Those cats were eventually shipped to a refuge in Texas.

Germain says that his department is equipped for every kind of public safety emergency, but a chair and a bullwhip are probably their least effective weapons. Meanwhile, they're hoping for no elephant or rhino sightings.

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