Goodbye Essex Lion, we had a roaring good laugh


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The Independent Online

And so it passes into myth, joining the Beast of Bodmin and the Surrey Puma – the 24-hour wonder which was the Essex Lion.

Yesterday police called off the hunt for this prime example of the king of the jungle, allegedly seen in the somewhat unregal surroundings of a field adjoining a caravan park at St Osyth.

It was the biggest thing to happen to St Osyth since the North Sea floods of 1953. So the eventual police assertion of its non-existence – "we believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wild cat" – produced a palpable sigh of disappointment across the nation.

In its short life, the Essex Lion was near the top of every news bulletin. Sky News ran rolling coverage until the hunt was called off, while the Daily Mail gave it the whole front page for some editions of yesterday morning's paper. For this was an August Bank Holiday story that had everything. It was an ABC – an Alien Big Cat, of course – a term coined by cryptozoologists (also known as amateur animal hunters convinced that Bigfoot and Nessie are Out There).

Essex Constabulary were taking the suggestion of a lion on the loose seriously and had employed helicopters with heat-seeking equipment, armed officers and vets with tranquiliser guns. They had little choice. Witnesses swore it was a lion. Rich Baker, 39, from Romford, who was staying in a nearby caravan, said: "It was one million per cent a lion." Yet eventually, the search drew a blank, and an Essex police spokesman was forced to concede: "Nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area."

In the Middle Ages they had books called bestiaries, which were compilations of real and mythical creatures, beautifully illustrated by monks. The Beast of Bodmin would have gone right in. So would the Surrey Puma. And the Essex Lion – why, that would have had the place of honour.

Tweeters went wild with Essex lion jokes about big hair and tan-coloured skin. The @Essexlion account attracted nearly 40,000 followers before Twitter suspended it.