Aiken County authorities searched for a missing mountain lion for most of the day Sunday, but there was one problem: It apparently didn’t exist in the first place.
About 5:30 p.m., the Aiken Department of Public Safety called off a search for a black, domesticated mountain lion that had been reported missing from Aquarium Pets at 1018 Richland Ave. W., saying the story had been fabricated.
Now, the case has turned into a criminal investigation in reference to filing a false police report.
According to an incident report, Billy Lunsford, the purported owner of the animal, told police early Sunday that someone had forced their way through the metal side of the building and stole the mountain lion, valued at more than $35,000.
Lunsford said the lion was last seen about 7 p.m. Saturday and had been left to wander around the back room of the building.
The reporting officer noticed that part of the siding was missing at least 15 screws, none of which were found, and had been pried open with a PVC pipe. Lunsford said he believed the mountain lion, described as being about 3 feet tall and weighing about 100 pounds, was pulled through a six-inch gap in the wall.
Lt. Jake Mahoney said that Lunsford’s connection to the business is unclear, but that he is not the store’s owner.
The search for the big cat involved Aiken Public Safety, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, Aiken County Animal Control and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.
After news of the missing animal made its rounds on social media and residents began to call in, Mahoney said, the department was able to dig deeper into the details of incident.
“We were put in contact with a source that could provide more detail,” Mahoney said. “We’ll be interviewing everyone involved.”
Even Mahoney’s son called into question the purported color of the animal’s fur, as he had never heard of a black mountain lion.
According to Aiken’s code of ordinances, a kennel license must be obtained for “any location which houses an exotic animal, vicious animal or an identified hybrid.” The license costs $25 per year and expires June 30 annually. It’s unknown whether the business had this particular license.
A call to Aquarium Pets was not immediately returned Sunday.