Hunt for a “lion on the loose in Essex”: 30 police officers, crack marksmen and two helicopters join search
Armed police were last night hunting for a lion believed to be on the loose in Essex. Residents were told to stay indoors after the beast was spotted in fields near Clacton.
Two police helicopters and around 30 police officers were scrambled after locals reported the sighting. One witness described onlookers screaming as they realised they had just seen the predator.
Rich Baker, 39, was walking with his two boys, aged nine and 11. He said: “A man started running towards us yelling “It”s a ******* lion!” He looked so panicked you knew it was nota joke.
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
“The lion was in the middle of the field with its back towards me. When someone else screamed it turned around and you could see it from the side.”
The van driver, from Romford, Essex, continued: “I grabbed my children”s hands 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 standing there, it seemed to be enjoying itself.
In an interview with Horse and Hound magazine, the circus”s owner said he would be cutting back on the number of animals he used
“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 a bank holiday.”
Essex police said they believed the reports to be genuine after a group of people who had been walking closeto fields in the village of St Osyth at around 7pm took a photograph ofthe animal.
Another witness, Rob Hull, who works as a barman at the nearby Tudor Bar social club, had already heard aboutthe 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 didnt have a care in the world.
“I had already heard about it. It was already all over Facebook and Twitter. But it was massive.”
It is 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. Owner 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. Another witness, who lives nearby, said he heard the lion roar.
“I just heard it around 10pm I was sitting downstairs with my wife playing backgammon and I heard a loud roar,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
It is believed the lion may have escaped from the Great British Circus which was performing in the area
“I said to my wife. “did you hear that” and I went upstairs to check on my son but he was asleep.
“I thought it was rather odd, then I got a text from my brother 20 minutes later saying there was a lion on the loose.
“I think we”ve all heard roars of lions on television, it was definitely that. At first when I heard it itsounded remarkably odd to hear something like that. I said to my wife Ijust heard a large roar.
“It was loud. You know I didn”t have the back door open, I had the back window open slightly, I imagine it was in the woods over the fields. It was a loud roar for me to hear it inside.”
Police were last night working with experts from Colchester Zoo to track down the animal. The animal is not thought to have come from the zoo as all their animals have been accounted for.
A police spokesman said: “The large cat, believed to be a lion, was seen in fields off Earls Hall Drive in St Oysth, near Clacton, just before 7pm on Sunday, August 26, 2012.
Police are trying to establish where the lion may have come from. Anyone who sees the lion is advised to call 999.”