British police pursue mysterious lion: Real or rumor?

With heat-seeking helicopters, British police are hunting for a lion in rural England. But the local zoo and circus aren't missing any lions. Where did this reported lion come from?

(AP Photo/Steve Parsons/PA Wire)
Police on duty at Earls Hall Farm in St Osyth, southern England where a lion was apparently seen Monday Aug. 27, 2012. Outside the idyllic English village of St. Osyth, police are hunting a lion.

Outside the idyllic English village of St. Osyth, police are hunting a lion.

A small army of officers and tranquilizer-toting zoo experts, along with a pair of heat-seeking helicopters, are spending their Monday combing the woods, ponds, and farmland around the coastal community after a resident spotted what was believed to be a lion lounging in a field of grass.

Where such a beast may have come from is anyone's guess; the local zoo says its animals are accounted for, and police have said a local circus isn't missing any either. As of early afternoon, the force hadn't found any paw prints or droppings, but officers said they were treating the sighting seriously, and so too are St. Osyth's 4,000-odd residents.

IN PICTURES: Baby lions

"I wouldn't expect to see a lion walking up the high street, but it seems to be very quiet in the village," said Jason Amos, who owns St. Osyth's timber-framed Red Lion pub. "People are taking it very seriously."

The sighting has prompted a media frenzy in Britain, with the Daily Mail tabloid splashing a picture of a snarling lion across its front page and camera crews racing to the historic village, which is built around medieval priory only a couple of miles from England's south coast.

Amos said he'd just seen journalists from Britain's Sky News television broadcasting from outside the pub.

Improbable sightings of dangerous animals are a familiar part of the British news cycle, particularly at the height of summer when journalists struggle to fill papers and news bulletins.

Last year, police in northern England scrambled a helicopter and passengers were stopped from leaving a train after a motorist reported seeing a lion (a hunt turned up nothing). During the riots that hit London in 2011, there were rumors — quickly disproved — that a tiger was on the loose in the capital after escaping from the city zoo.

In 2007, the British media went wild over a man who claimed to have photographed a great white shark off the coast of Cornwall, in southwestern England. He later admitted that the pictures were actually taken while on vacation in South Africa, adding that he couldn't believe anyone had been foolish enough to take the hoax seriously.

IN PICTURES: Baby lions

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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