The lion, the search and the no-show: Police call off search for Essex mystery beast
IN THE end it was less a hunt for an escaped lion as a wild goose chase. Police helicopters were grounded and armed marksman stood down yesterday afternoon as the search for a lion believed to have been prowling the undergrowth near Clacton-on-Sea was called off.
• Police initially believed sighting to be genuine after viewing a photograph taken by local
• Cat was rumoured to have escaped from circus performing in area
• Firearms officers and police helicopters involved in search
• Zoo workers said to be armed with tranquilliser guns also joined armed officers
• Several photographs circulating on social networks are believed to have been doctored
• Animal reported to be ‘the length of two sheep put together’, according to eyewitness
In what may have been a case of mistaken identity, police believe eye-witnesses who thought they had spotted the king of the jungle near Earls Hall Drive, in St Osyth, had seen either an ordinary domestic cat or a wild cat.
After 24 hours of intensive searching and confirmed reports from local zoos and circuses that no lion had, in fact, been reported missing, police in Essex ended the hunt.
Yesterday police said they had to take the reports seriously because of their duty to protect public safety. The force originally advised residents to remain indoors as the search got under way after 7pm on Sunday evening.
Helicopters with heat-seeking equipment were scrambled to an area where the creature was apparently seen and experts from Colchester Zoo were called in to help. They were shown images of the animal captured by a local and could not rule out the fact it was a lion.
As well as a heightened police presence and the helicopter search, zoo workers said to be armed with tranquilliser guns joined armed officers. Essex Police said “public safety had remained at the forefront of the policing operation” but officers can now advise residents to “once again return to normal life”.
The force also warned that “several doctored photographs are in circulation through social networking sites and other media forums”.
It is not the first time that daily life has been disrupted because of reports of a lion on the loose. Last year, West Yorkshire Police scrambled a helicopter after a motorist reported seeing a lion as she drove through Shepley, near Huddersfield.
An Essex Police spokesman said: “We believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wildcat. Extensive searches have been carried out, areas examined and witnesses spoken to, yet nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area.”
Yesterday, Stephen Atkin, 52, a building maintenance inspector from Louth, Lincolnshire, said he had confirmed the suspected sighting to the police.
He said: “We witnessed it, I would say, for about 20 to 30 minutes cleaning itself and rolling about in the field.”
He said the animal was the length of two sheep “put together”.
Residents were told to stay indoors as search teams worked throughout the night to track down the large cat, which was spotted in a field by a member of the public.
Essex Police have enlisted the help of experts from Colchester Zoo who believe the sighting to be genuine after viewing a photograph of the animal taken by a local.
Two police helicopters using heat-seeking equipment have been involved in the hunt for the animal, while zoo workers said to be armed with tranquilliser guns have also joined armed officers.
The big cat was seen in fields off Earls Hall Drive in St Osyth, near Clacton, Essex, just before 7pm yesterday.
Police immediately issued a warning to residents to stay inside their homes as officers began a search near where the animal was spotted.
Che Kevlin said he heard what he believed to be a roar whilst out walking his dog last night.
“I heard a loud roar at 10pm. It sounded like a lion,” he told the BBC.
“It was worrying as we had just been for a walk with the dog. We saw the police helicopter but thought it was just searching for a person.
“It sounded like the roar of a lion. We have a field and wood just behind our fence, so you never know.”
A force spokeswoman confirmed the animal had not escaped from Colchester Zoo, as all its animals had been accounted for.
The Great British Circus was based at Clacton Airfield but its run in the area ended around a fortnight ago, according to a local events website.
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