Here, kitty kitty: Image of “Essex Lion” that sparked massive police hunt is finally revealed as officers call off the search and admit sightings were probably of a “large domestic cat”No sign of predator after extensive police searches
30 police officers, marksmen and two helicopters were involved in searchBut witnesses stand by their claims that they saw a big cat
Panicked man running towards family yelled: “It”s a f****** lion!”
Family playing backgammon in front room heard very loud roar
This is the image that sparked a big cat scare in Essex after walkers became convinced they had seen a lion in a field.
Police, who were handed similar pictures to this one taken in St Osyth, near Clacton on Sea, scrambled helicopters and marksmen in pursuit of the supposed beast.
They called off the large-scale search today after 24 hours when officers found no trace of a lion.
But tonight witnesses stood by their claims, insisting that the animal they saw was definitely a large cat.
Lion or tabby cat: Images similar to this one were handed to Essex police, sparking the large-scale search involving helicopters last night
Searching: Today police were seen patrolling areas around Earls Hall Farm in St Osyth (pictured), near Clacton, Essex, not far from where an animal, believed to be a lion, was spotted near a caravan site
A police spokesman said: “We believe what was seen on Sunday evening waseither 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.
“We would like to thank the local community and holidaymakers for their patience and support throughout the past 24 hours as the police and media presence would have been somewhat overwhelming for them.”
It has emerged that an image believed to show the lion which was widely viewed online was in fact a fake.
Essexpolice warned that “several doctored photographs are in circulation through social networking sites and other media forums”.
Andofficers said one night-time picture in circulation showing the silhouette of what looked like a lion, was “never one that police were examining”.
Theimage – which was widely distributed on Twitter – was thought to show the beast behind a car in a residential area in Basildon, Essex.
Beware: Village green at St Osyth (pictured) near to where the beast was believed to have been spotted. Police have now called off the search of the area
People passing this photo of a lion around social networking site Twitter thought this was the lion that sparked the hunt. Police have confirmed it is a fake
It followed a reported sighting by a group of people who claim they saw the predator close to fields near Clacton, Essex, at around 7pm yesterday.
They passed an image to the police, speaking a search involving armed officers and helicopters.
And today officers were working with experts from Colchester Zoo to track down the animal until the search was called off.
Denise Martin, 52, a warehouse operative,took the picture after seeing the suspected lion from the windows of her caravan on the site at Earls Hall Farm.
Mrs Martin, from Canvey Island, was spending the Bank Holiday weekend atthe site with her husband, Bob, 51, a professional driver, her brother,David Wright, 57, a lorry driver, and his wife, Sue, 58.
“I was looking out of the window and we saw smoke – it looked like therehad been a bit of a bonfire. When you are in a caravan you panic about smoke,” Mrs Martin said.
“When the smoke cleared I could see this shape in the field, so I got the binoculars out. We had a look and it looked like a lion.”
Stephen Atkin and his wife were asked to confirm a suspected sighting of the lion
She said the lion was tan coloured with a white chest.
“We weren”t scared at all – it was excitement. You don”t often see something like that in the wild. One time it sat up and looked at us andwe could see its ears twitching. It knew we were there and it sat down and started cleaning itself.”
Mrs Wright, a housewife and a mother of three, from Dagenham, Essex, said the group watched the lion for around half an hour before itdisappeared.
“The moment I saw it, straight away I said “That looks like a lioness,” she said.
“We then phoned the police. We phoned the police before I started to take pictures. I just thought we would take them so that we had proof ofwhat we were seeing.
“When the farmer came he walked into the field and the lion got up and walked away into the next field.”
Stephen Atkin, 52, a building maintenance inspector from Louth, Lincolnshire, who was also at the caravan site, said he had been asked to confirm the suspected sighting to the police.
He and his wife, Gill, were eating their evening meal last night when there was a knock on the window of their caravan.
“My wife and I were sitting in our caravan having our evening meal when there was a knock at the window from a gentleman asking if we could
confirm to the police that we are witnessing a lion, or I would say a large cat, across the other side of the field.
“I took the phone off the gentleman and spoke to the police and witnessed that “Yes, what the gentleman has just told you is definitely a very large animal, and possibly a lion, definitely a large cat.”
“We witnessed it, I would say, for about 20 to 30 minutes cleaning itself and rolling about in the field.”
Mr Atkin said the animal was the length of two sheep “put together”.
“It was a big animal.”
Mrs Atkin, 51, a hospital administrator, took pictures which the couple handed in to the police.
“I did not think it was a lion as its ears were too pointed but it was really big.”
Another witness described onlookers screaming as they came face to face with the predator.
Others sitting in nearby homes told how they heard it roar as it prowledthe area. Rich Baker, 39, was walking with his two boys, aged nine and 11 when the drama unfolded.
Police hunt: Armed police are hunting a lion which was spotted in fields near a caravan site in St Osyth, Essex (pictured)
On the loose: The lion was spotted in the village of St Osyth, near Clacton, Essex
He said: “A man started running towards us yelling “It’s a f****** lion!” He looked so panicked you knew it was not a joke. The lion you could see it from the side.’
The van driver, from Romford, Essex, continued: “I grabbed my children’shands and we ran towards our caravan. My children started to scream, “daddy, is the lion going to get us”
“It was one million per cent a lion. It was a tan colour with a big mane, it was fully grown, it was definitely a lion. It was just standingthere, it seemed to be enjoying itself.
“There were a dozen or so people who saw it. We are staying on the caravan park down the road. It’s very busy – it’s a seaside resort and abank holiday.’
Che Kevlin, 40, who lives nearby the scene of the drama, described hearing the lion roar.
He said: “I was sitting with my wife in the front room playing backgammon at around 10pm when I heard this very loud roar.
“It was incredibly odd to hear something like that at that time of night.
“We had been for a walk earlier in the day and heard a police helicopter but didn’t realise they were looking for a lion.
“We were trying to work out what the roar was. It was not until my brother texted me 20 minutes later and said there’s a lion on the loose in your area that we realised what exactly it was.
“It was very, very loud. I’ve only heard what a lion sounds like on TV wildlife programmes, but it was definitely that.’
Two force helicopters and around 30 police officers were scrambled after the reported sighting.
Experts said they would try to tranquilise the creature if it was found. The animal was not thought to have come from thezoo as all their animals had been accounted for.
A witness, Rob Hull, who works as a barman at the nearby Tudor Barsocial club, had already heard about the lion when he saw it ambling through the field.
He said: “I was in my car as I had just gone to get some petrol when I saw it in the field next to the road. It was ambling laconically along by the lake in the field, like it didn’t have a care in the world.
“I had already heard about it. It was already all over Facebook and Twitter.’
It was originally believed the animal could have escaped from a circus that had been performing nearby. The Great British Circus had been running at Clacton Airfield, less than two miles away, until August 8.
The circus website includes video footage of lions performing as part of its show.
Last night there were conflicting reports over whether the circus had been touring with lions or not.
But police said today that officers have spoken to the circus and confirmed they do not have an animal missing, nor do they have any lions.
They also told people to enjoy the rest of the Bank Holiday.
Pub landlord Dave Sparks, who runs the Red Lion pub in St Osyth, described the police hunt as “surreal”.
He said: “You don’t really expect to be told there’s a lion wandering around the area.”
Roger Lord, of Earls Hall Farm, St Osyth, said a picture of the suspected lion had been taken by residents in caravans on the farm land and passed to police.
“The first thing we knew about it was a phone call from the police last night,” he said.
“I am sceptical – I think it might just well be a large domestic cat but they certainly saw something that they were were concerned about and they went down the right route to the police.
“They have taken it very seriously and have put two helicopters up in the air and I don”t know how many armed police that we still have on site now.
Overnight police helicopters were using heat-seeking cameras to scan fields and woods.
Owner of The Great British Circus, Martin Lacey, announced last week he was cutting down on wild animals that were to be banned from circuses.
“I am 70 this year so have decided to finish now,’ he told Horse and Hound magazine.
He was seeking new owners for performing horses and a zebra that had been dropped from the circus. He had reportedly also sold a tiger to Italy.
Last night he could not be contacted for comment.
Police were trying to establish where the lion may have come from. Anyone who sees the lion is advised to call 999.
AND IS THERE A PANTHER ON THE LOOSE TOO
Beast: The creature, thought to be a panther, was spotted in the early hours of this morning (file photo)
A panther has been spotted on the loose in the Cotswolds today.
Kieran Bourne, 30, said he was convinced he saw a big cat in his headlights as he made his way home across Cleeve Hill in the early hours of this morning.
He nearly collided with the animal by the side of the road, swerved, and saw it pounce into the bushes and disappear.
Mr Bourne, who contacted a big cat expert after the sighting, believed it was the same creature which shocked residents in fields at Winchcombe, near Cheltenham, in April.
He said: ‘It looked at me from the side of the road. I was coming round quite a sharp bend from Winchcombe up the hill to Cleeve Hill and it was on the left hand side of the road in my main beam – I nearly hit it.
‘It was the size of a large dog, about 2.5ft high and about 4ft long with a U-shaped tail curled upwards.
‘I swerved to the right to make sure I didn’t hit it and it pounced into the bushes.
‘I’m now 100 per cent sure it was a big black cat, with no markings on. It’s out there.’
The spoof lion pictures let loose on Twitter
Scary! Mo Farah superimposed onto a picture of a lion to look like he is frightened and running away from the beast
Is this the lion Many Twitter users claimed TOWIE star Gemma Collins, pictured wearing fitting make-up, was actually the lion on the loose as hundreds of users posted their own version of the predator on the site
“I saw the Essex lion”, claimed one Twitter user who uploaded this picture on the site today
Too cute for a lion surely The owner didn”t think so as she posted this picture on Twitter