Essex police called off a high-profile search for what witnesses had said was a mysterious lion that appeared, apparently out of nowhere, in a field near the seaside resort of Clacton.
Authorities had deployed firearms officers, a helicopter, and heat-seeking technology following reports of a cat-like beast roaming the Essex area.
The hunt for the creature — which witnesses had said appeared to be a lion — sparked a slew of media coverage yesterday.
Police said they were taking the search for the so-called lion seriously, but many saw the lighter side, with jokes, spoof images, and Twitter accounts circulating the internet.
At 2pm yesterday police ended the search after finding no trace of the big cat. A 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.”
No official explanation for mysterious sightings was given.
Officers from Essex police had been working with experts from Col-chester Zoo who initially believed the reports to be genuine.
A spokesman said up to six people claimed to have seen the big cat but there had been no further sightings since Sunday evening.
A police spokesman earlier said: “Public safety is our priority which is why we are taking the sighting and all associated evidence seriously.”
Throughout the hunt, mystery surrounded where the lion might have come from. Police ruled out Colchester Zoo as all its animals were accounted for. A circus based near Clacton-on-Sea early in August said it did not keep any lions.
Che Kevlin said he heard what he believed to be a roar while out walking his dog last night. “I heard a loud roar at 10pm. It sounded like a lion,” he told 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.”
Some Twitter users laughingly claimed that, due to the lion’s apparent ability to appear out of nowhere before disappearing again, it must be Aslan, the deity from The Chronicles of Narnia.
Other users claimed the lion had taken refuge in the Ecuadoran embassy in London, where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has claimed asylum.
Police said they had not found any proof, such as prints or droppings, to confirm the sighting.
Officers from Essex police believed the reports to be genuine after being shown a photograph from a member of the public.
The photo was returned to the owner and was reportedly the subject of a bidding war between newspapers in England.
A police spokesman said: “Public safety is our priority which is why we are taking the sighting and all associated evidence seriously.”
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