Panther stolen from zoo after rescue from French rooftops

A black panther rescued from rooftops near the northern city of Lille last week has been stolen from the zoo where it was taken after capture (AFP Photo/)

Lille (France) (AFP) - It appears to be France's most coveted cat: A black panther rescued from rooftops near the northern city of Lille last week has been stolen from the zoo where it was taken after capture, officials said.

The feline was seized overnight from the zoo in Maubeuge near the Belgian border, the city's mayor, Arnaud Decagny, told AFP on Tuesday.

"This animal was the only target," Decagny said, adding that "considerable efforts" were made to force locks and avoid security systems.

Zoo personnel are worried about the young panther's health, "which is rather delicate because he lacks strength," the mayor added, saying the animal was just a few months old and weighed between 25 and 30 kilogrammes (55-66 pounds).

The panther was going to be transferred to a centre specialised in rehabilitating wild animals that had been domesticated.

Firefighters caught the cat last Wednesday as it roamed rooftops in Armentieres after escaping through the window of a private apartment believed to have been its home.

The panther's owner is thought to have escaped through the same window, for fear of being charged with illegally harbouring a wild animal.

Police have not located the fugitive owner, who could face charges of endangering the public, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and 15,000 euros ($16,500) in fines, Decagny said.