Okay, so the rumours circulated that there was a lion on the loose near Clacton in Essex. How many more stories like this are going to be followed up by droves of police officers and reported on my drama hungry papers ? It's a sorry state of affairs, and it's hysteria that makes a mockery of my research because when investigators, as usual, find no evidence of the lion king, everyone starts laughing and saying that there are no large cats roaming Britain. So let's look at the details.
Someone claimed they'd seen a lion in a field a few days ago. The story spread like wildfire, newspapers got involved, my phone started to ring, the police turned up at the location, photographs of the 'beast' began being passed around and so was born the 'Lion of Essex' legend...another unfounded scare akin to the Shooter's Hill cheetah, The Edgware Tiger, the Winchmore Hill lioness, the Sydenham leopard blah blah blah. Yep, the police had every right to investigate it as it was a matter of public safety but surely such a fuss wasn't necessary. A couple of animal trackers would have sufficed because if anyone knows anything about cats, lions do not behave in an incredibly elusive manner, lions would seek large prey and also seek a pride, and lions DO NOT inhabit the wilds of Britain, neither do tigers, jaguars or cheetahs.
There are three suggestions for the Essex lion story - 1) maybe, just maybe there had been a lion that had escaped from a zoo/private collection - or if you read some of the papers, a circus which had stopped by a few weeks previous. 2) there was no lion at all, just a bunch of witnesses who didn't have a clue what they were seeing or maybe had nothing better to do than make it up, 3) judging by a couple of reports in which witnesses described seeing a tan-coloured cat with a white chest, a puma may have been involved. Whatever the truth, if there was a lion roaming Essex - it would no doubt be used to being hand-reared, lacking excerise and keen to feast on those mutant's with their swept over fringes, white teeth and small percentage of brain cells. If a lion had been roaming Essex then the police would not have called off the search. If a lion had bene roaming Essex it would have been heard roaring on numerous occasions, would have been on the prowl for livestock, and would have left behind a few very large prints. Lions are not elusive hunters that climb trees. Lions are bloody big animals.
A few people fell for the photoshopped images floating around the internet. Newspaper reporters and tv crews flocked to the scene, once again falling for it hook, line and sinker and when no animal turned up, the sceptics mocked, scoffing at those foolish enough there would be big cats in the wild. Of course, despite this farcical affair, it doesn't explain the fact as to why for the last two-hundred or so years, peope have reported seeing large black cats, and slightly smaller puma-like cats around Ongar Marshes, Epping Forest, Brentwood etc. It also doesn't explain that in the last week I've received 11 reports of black leopard from various parts of Kent and Sussex and none of these were investigated by police helicopters.
What people need to realise is that there are smaller exotic cats roaming the UK, but stories pertaining to lions, tigers and cheetahs must be taken with a pinch of salt, and if by chance a lion does turn up in the local woods, then it has simply escaped from somewhere and will be recaptured usually with the use of a tranquilliser, or sadly shot dead. Over the years lions, tigers and the like have escaped from private menageries, zoo parks and the occasional circus, but they don't escsper and then live forever more in our wilds - can you imagine a tiger escaping from a zoo and then exisiting in your local wood for years without detection ? It doesn't happen. Mind you, if a black leopard cub, or puma kitten was released it could survive easily in the wilds of the UK, there's plenty of food and cover, but these animals exist by using stealth.
Give it a few months and another big cat scare story will hit the newspapers, televsion reporters will turn up to the scene in their droves waiting for the cat to emerge from the shadows and give an interview, and the 'big cat' hunters/researchers will arrive in camo' gear, salivating at the thought of being involved in another 'mystery.' It happens all the time. One of the only occasions the story turned out to be nothing more than fiction was in 2001 when a lynx was found in Cricklewood in London. It was underweight and had an injured back leg, suggesting it had been kept illegally as a pet - but the newspapers and the like had a field day and I really felt sorry for the animal as it was hunted through the back gardens of leafy London, but thankfully the animal was only tranquillised and was sent off to a zoo. In 2005 when a man claimed he was attacked by a leopard in his garden at Sydenham, police tured up with taser guns...it left me asking who was the biggest threat, a cat which had probably not been in the area whatsoever, or the police and the press, eager to create another witch-hunt.