Photo: Burrard-Lucas Photography
A roaming “lion” which caused widespread panic, excitement and a police operation in Essex is now believed to be little more than a domestic cat.Neighbours and holidaymakers had originally told police they were certain the large beast had been a marauding lion, which looked to be stalking the field and lazing in the sun.
One said it had been “a million per cent lion”, while another reported a man running from the scene screaming: “It’s a f****** lion!”
But a thorough search by police, zoologists and wildlife experts found no sign of such an animal, with no lions being reported missing in the area of St Osyth, near Clacton, Essex.
The excitement now appears to have been caused by a large domestic cat, with amused locals already compiling a list of possible candidates for the beast which caused the scare.
Leading the list of suspects is Teddy Bear, a three-year-old domestic Maine Coon who lives just a few hundred yards from where the “lion” was spotted.
The cat, which has light, sandy-coloured fur not dissimilar to the big cat, often wanders in the field and has been mistaken for a fox in the past, according to his owner.
Ginny Murphy told the Daily Mail she had seen the furore over the “lion hunt” on television in Liverpool, where she was staying, adding: “It clicked right away.”
“We thought it had to be Ted, as he’s the only big gingery thing around there and he does tend to wander into that field,” she said.
“There’s no question about it, it’s him. As we were away he probably went into that field to sulk.
“From a distance, because he has a light-coloured mane, he does look a little lion-like. I can see why someone would think that.”
Despite his owner’s certainty, Teddy Bear is not the only suspected “lion” in the frame.
Another large ginger cat called Tom has also been implicated.
The 12-year-old tomcat, who lives at an old people’s home 200 yards from the scene of the sighting, is thought to be large enough to cause some confusion, with ginger fur that could be mistaken at a distance.
According to a carer at the home, he is “always out in the fields” hunting and could have been the animal caught on camera.
“I was working here on Sunday and he was definitely out then, so it certainly could have been him,” she told the Daily Mirror.
“His colouring does mean he looks a bit like a lion, but he’s not dangerous.
“He’s quite a large, mean-looking tom, but beneath all that he’s an affectionate cat who loves having a good stroke.”
Their images are now being compared with grainy footage of the “lion” taken by residents and holidaymakers.
The photographs had already sparked a major police operation, with the story of the “Essex lion” dominating social media networks over the bank holiday.
A dozen officers and animal experts were sent to the scene, while a helicopter was scrambled and residents were warned to stay inside or be cautious while out and about.
Panic began shortly after 7pm on Sunday when holidaymakers in caravans spotted a large animal in a field off Earls Court Drive, just outside the village.
The story quickly spread, as did eye witness accounts claiming it was “100 per cent lion”. The local zoo and circus were called to see if they had animals missing, and police scoured the fields on land and in the air.
Stephen Atkin, 52, who was staying with his wife, Gill, on a caravan site nearby said: “We were having an evening meal and there was a knock on the window. The man looked concerned and we thought that someone had been taken ill. My heart was in my mouth.
“He had a phone with him and said ‘can you confirm to the Police what I am seeing?’ He handed me the telephone, I went outside and confirmed ‘yes it is a very large animal, possibly a lion but a very large cat’.
“I watched it for about 20 minutes. It was rolling about in the field, pawing itself, cleaning itself and then it walked for about 20 yards down a hedgerow. I was a bit shocked. It is not the sort of thing you expect to see on a Sunday evening. We came expecting a quiet holiday and it was the opposite.
“It definitely looked like a female lion or a tiger.”
Rich Baker, 39, from Romford, Essex, who was staying in a nearby caravan, said: “A man started running towards us yelling ‘It’s a f****** lion!’. He looked so panicked you knew it was not a joke. You could see the lion from the side.
“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.”
Rob Hull, a barman at the Tudor Bar social club, 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.”
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