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.