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UK: Lion Spotted Is Actually Pet Cat Named Teddy Bear

United Kingdom police officers were busy last weekend with a major operation launched on the evening of Sunday August 26, 2012, following the apparent sighting of a lion in the English county of Essex.

Specialist firearms officers and experts from Colchester Zoo joined 25 officers called to where the animal was seen, using two police helicopters – one with thermal imaging equipment – to try to detect the animal. Essex Police have not released any details of the cost of the search, but the lion turned out to be large Maine Coon domestic cat called ‘Teddy Bear'.

This video uploaded to YouTube on 27 August by   provides some ‘eyewitness’ accounts. Another popular image of the ‘lion’ circulated via social media was later revealed to have been faked.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwbaNN3AfsE

Vics, an English girl living in the South of France, summarises the news with inside knowledge:

It seems that a combination of silly season and mass hysteria hit the UK this week after holiday makers in Essex reported seeing a lion in a field next to a camp-site in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex. They took a blurry photo as “proof” and then the whole thing escalated with witnesses claiming to hear ‘loud roaring’ in nearby houses and people running away from the “lion” as he prowled around the camp-site at night. As soon as the British press got wind of the whole thing, they went into high alert and the Essex lion was front page news for most of the day on Monday. I have family who live in Clacton-On-Sea and so took great delight in sending them messages on Facebook warning them to stay inside and avoid loud purring noises in the garden. Photo-shopped pictures were shared on Twitter and Facebook all day and a couple of hilarious fake Twitter accounts were set up with the Essex lion sending out messages about how he was living it up large in Clacton and avoiding the police who were out looking for him.

Twitter account @EssexLion amassed nearly 37,000 followers in less than two days. His first tweet alone was re-tweeted 1,104 times and had over 70 likes:

ROAR BRUV!

“It's been a great week for British humour” says a Welsh blogger based in Italy:

As armed police and helicopters swarmed to the area, did my compatriots go into lockdown mode?  No, they carried on much as usual and continued to go “down the pub”.  I couldn't help smiling as the landlady of the nearest pub was interviewed, saying she was “a bit worried” but that her customers were still coming.  That's the kind of reaction that makes you strangely proud to be British!  On this occasion , too, twitter came into its own:  ”Essex girl” and her companion “Essex man” are unflattering stereotypes in popular culture [better that you read about them here] so when, within minutes of the “lion” news breaking, a twitter account in the name of “Essex Lion” was opened, the tweeting party went on all night.  This puzzled a lot of my Italian twitter friends and I reflected that, had a lion been on the prowl here, everybody would have barricaded themselves in [elegantly, with good food on the stove and packs of cards to pass the time, it must be said].  As the night wore on and Sunday merged into Monday I think someone must have called Moody's because the poor old lion was downgraded, first to a “big dog”, then to a “wildcat” and finally, yesterday, to a domestic cat called “Teddy Bear”.  But the British are nothing if not stubborn, as many would-be invaders have found out,  and as I write  this on Wednesday night, there are still folk in Essex who are convinced they saw a lion despite the fact that the police called off their search yesterday morning.

Mark Borkowski wrote a post called ‘The Essex Lion and the Roar of the Crowd', in which he noticed how the episode highlighted the power of social media:

The search for the elusive big cat provided a never ending stream of comic reports for the 24 minute news cycle. Twitter and other social media channels were awash with jokes surrounding the #EssexLion, lending their weight to this most agreeable meme. [...] Ultimately, whether or not there was an escaped big cat prowling St Osyth is irrelevant. The power of the social driven media age proves that we are more interested in the potential and context of the story, rather than the truth. Especially when we need some enjoyment to help us forget the damp Bank Holiday weekend.

While blog Frivolous Monsters posted the ‘Diary – Essex Lion Hunting Special‘ and Rachel Jones published links to some earlier big cat sightings, Tony Giles wondered ironically how come the Essex Lion got so much coverage. On hearing the news that the Essex Lion was pet cat, Rishi Dastidar claimed a poem was inevitable:

People of Essex, do not be afraid!
The lion is a cat called Teddy Bear.
The big animal threat has begun to fade.
People of Essex, do not be afraid!
OK, we admit our binoculars were mislaid
and you can go about without a care.
The lion is a cat called Teddy Bear.
People of Essex, do not be afraid!

“Nobody does Monty Python-style police stories like the Brits”, says Michael Mountain summarising the search for the lion stalking the eerie grasslands of Essex, complete with photos and videos. To finish off, Vics evokes another British comedy classic, a must watch to understand the British and their their annual summer holiday in caravans:

Perhaps next time the police should heed the advice of everyone's favourite Catholic Priest ‘Father Ted‘ and remember that there is a difference between ‘small’ and ‘far away'!

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