There May Have Been No Essex Lion, But We Wanted To Believe There Was

This is the UK, and we love these kinds of emergency stories ’ perhaps because the British countryside houses little that can terrify or excite the average newspaper reader

Police have called off the hunt for the lion reportedly spotted in Essex, and what a fine use of public resources that was. The reason the police were involved in the first place was that ‘professionals’ from a nearby zoo had judged that a photo taken at the scene was inconclusive: it may or may not have been of a lion. The Daily Mail have helpfully provided a copy of the photo.

It’s quite a rare achievement, in the smart phone age, to take such an ‘inconclusive’ photograph, even at short notice and when confronted with the shock of a lion – a lion! – in a field near Clacton-on-Sea.

But then, having previously been shown equally grainy photos taken on an iPhone of mysterious UFOs spotted over London — yes, those blurry, luminous dots could have been an alien spaceship, but they may equally have been plane lights — I understand that modern technology has an uncanny ability to replicate the pinhole cameras of yesteryear when confronted with such extraordinary sights.

Yes, the photo above could be of a lion. It could equally be of a cat, a small dog, a watercolour painting photographed from too close up or a human being dressed up as a lion.

It most likely was a cat or small dog, but then compared to the improbability of a lion slipping unnoticed through the bars of a nearby zoo, the idea that someone walked out of a stag do still in their big cat costume and stumbled blind-drunk through a field, sparking a police hunt, suddenly doesn’t seem so silly.

But this is the UK, and we love these kinds of emergency stories – perhaps because the British countryside houses little that can terrify or excite the average newspaper reader. There are no man-eating sharks or spiders or grizzly bears or outbreaks of Ebola.

So the nation must, every now and then, whip itself up into a panicked frenzy at the alleged sighting of a panther, or a lion, or a deadly snake, and the police — the same police who can take hours to turn up to the scene of a burglary or mugging — seem happy to play along, in this case spending £880 an hour to stoke the excitement by deploying heat-seeking equipment and helicopters.

For those who spent hours fearing an imminent big cat attack in suburbia, excitedly googling previous sightings of fearsome predators or trekking around Essex with a fresh steak in one hand, a camera in the other, and dreams of becoming Wildlife Photographer of the Year, it was probably money well spent. 

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