Armed police have been deployed after a member of the public reported seeing a lion in a field close to the village of St Osyth near Clacton in Essex.

Essex police confirmed to ITV News that firearms officers and a helicopter had been deployed to the area.

A statement on the Essex Police website said:
The Essex Lion
Armed police respond to 'lion' sighting in Essex village
IT News (UK)
Date: August 26, 2012
"Residents living in the St Osyth area are being advised to stay indoors after police received reports of a lion being seen in a field.

"The large cat, believed to be a lion, was seen in fields off Earls Hall Drive in St Oysth, near Clacton, just before 7pm...

"There is an increased police presence in the area, including firearms officers and the police helicopter searching near where it was spotted."

  Essex Police statement
Experts from Colchester Zoo said they believe the report is genuine after looking at a photograph sent in by a member of the public.

It is not yet known where the lion escaped from, although all of Colchester Zoo's animals have been accounted for.
Police searching for a lion in Essex have said they are taking the hunt seriously.

The claims of a potential killer cat on the loose were met with a mixture of shock and disbelief but Essex Police scrambled helicopters with heat-seeking equipment to land around Earls Hall Drive in St Osyth, near Clacton, where the lion was apparently seen.

Initially police warned residents to stay inside their homes as officers began a search for the unusual Most Wanted target. But on Monday police said residents could still enjoy a walk in Clacton's countryside.

By Monday afternoon, police said they had not yet found any proof, such as prints or droppings, to confirm the sighting. A spokesman said between two and six people claimed to have seen the big cat but there had been no further sightings since Sunday. The police hunt is likely to be scaled down by nightfall if no evidence emerges, the spokesman added.

The police enlisted the help of experts from Colchester Zoo who believe the sighting to be genuine after viewing a photograph of the creature taken by a local.

As well as a heightened police presence and helicopter search, zoo workers said to be armed with tranquilliser guns also joined armed officers. Officers were returning to areas where the animal was apparently spotted to search for clues such as pawprints.

Mystery surrounds where the lion might have come from. Police ruled out Colchester Zoo as all its animals were accounted for. Rumours spread that the lion might have fled a circus performing in the Essex area, but they are yet to be substantiated.

Denise Martin, 52, a warehouse operative, was the first to spot the suspected lion on Sunday evening from the windows of her caravan on the site at Earls Hall Farm. Mrs Martin, from Canvey Island, was spending the Bank Holiday weekend at the 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. 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. I said to my husband 'What do you make of that?' He said 'That's a lion.' Five or 10 minutes later we got my brother and my sister-in-law to have a look. They came and looked at it and said 'It looks like a lion.' My husband phoned the police."

She said the lion was tan coloured with a white chest, adding: "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 and we could see its ears twitching. It knew we were there and it sat down and started cleaning itself."
Helicopter hunt for lion on loose
Messenger (UK)
Date: August 27, 2012
essex_lion001007.jpg essex_police2.jpg
Police at Earls Hall Farm in St Osyth, near Clacton, Essex, where a lion was reportedly spotted
Lion reported to be on the loose near Clacton
by Damien Pearse
The Guardian (UK)
Date: August 27, 2012
Armed officers and police helicopter join hunt for creature apparently caught on camera by member of the public


Police have warned residents to stay indoors after reports of a lion running loose in Essex.

Thirty officers, including a firearms team, and two police helicopters were called to the scene of the sighting in fields off Earls Hall Drive in St Osyth, near Clacton.

Officers from Essex police contacted experts from Colchester Zoo, who believe the reports to be genuine after being shown a photograph from a member of the public.

However, police said the animal had not escaped from the zoo, as all its big cats had been accounted for.

It is understood that at least one circus may have been touring the area recently.

Brenda Lord, of Earls Hall Farm, St Osyth, said the sighting was made by "several people" staying in caravans at her farm.

She said that at least one person had taken a photograph, apparently showing the animal in fields nearby.

"We are unable to go and speak to them as we have been ordered to stay indoors by police," she said.

"Those in the caravans have also been told to stay inside. There is a police helicopter outside and lots of activity."

Within minutes of the police appeal to stay indoors, St Osyth was trending on Twitter and an account set up @EssexLion.

Dave Sparks, of the Red Lion pub in St Osyth, said that the reports had worried families staying in the area for the bank holiday.

"We initially thought that it was a hoax but now we realise that it's genuine. The police are taking it very seriously.

"It's the talk of the pub. There have been a few people in here with children who have been quite worried but generally we are not too concerned."

Bernadette Cleere, of the King's Arms pub in St Osyth, said that speculation was rife among regulars about where the animal may have come from.

"There was a circus in Clacton a couple of weeks ago and so lots of people are wondering whether it may have escaped from there. Others say it could have come from a zoo.

"It's just not the sort of thing you expect to hear from your neighbours; 'Hey, have you seen the lion?'"

Police urged anyone who saw the animal to call 999.

A spokesman said: "The large cat, believed to be a lion, was seen in fields off Earls Hall Drive in St Osyth, near Clacton, just before 7pm on Sunday, August 26, 2012.

"Police are trying to establish where the lion may have come from."

The sighting comes 10 months after reports of a lion near Shepley station in Yorkshire.

Passengers were forced to remain on board a train for two hours close to the station after West Yorkshire police received a call from a woman saying she had spotted a lion as she was driving through Shepley, near Huddersfield.

Officers say they believe the woman was a genuine caller but, after a two hour search involving a police helicopter and 12 officers, the inquiry was brought to a close with no lions found, and no further sightings.

Six months earlier, in May last year, a police helicopter was scrambled after a "white tiger" was spotted in a field near Hedge End, Southampton.

Specialist staff from Marwell Zoo were called to advise and potentially tranquillise the animal and a golf course was evacuated.

But as police officers approached it they realised it was not moving and the helicopter crew, using thermal imaging equipment, ascertained that there was no heat source coming from it. The tiger turned out to be a stuffed toy.

essex_lion001004.jpg essex_lion001003.jpg
Passengers were forced to remain on board a train in Shepley, Yorkshire after a woman reported a lion sighting to police.
Hampshire police handout photograph of the toy life-size tiger seen in a Hedge End field which sparked a major operation involving armed officers and a force helicopter.
Image of 'Essex Lion' that sparked massive police hunt is finally revealed...