Dateline: 28th August 2012

The Essex Lion

For two breathless days in August 2012 the police, media and public at large were hooked into the reports of a lion on the prowl around St. Osyth, near Clacton-on-Sea in Essex.

The incident was sparked when walkers spotted what they believed to be a big cat and snapped a photograph of the beast at indeterminate range. The blurred snap, sent to the police with a report of the incident, was enough to spark a weekend of frantic activity and a media blitz as amateurs and the police alike took to the streets and skies to seek the mystery felid.

The original witnesses - the Martin family from Canvey Island - were enjoying their holiday at Earls Hall Farm caravan park when they spied something they took to be a larger than usual cat. Viewed through binoculars, they described a white chest and felt that it was unmistakeably a lioness. The photograph they took (available here at the Daily Mail website) isn't immediately identifiable as anything other than a run of the mill domestic cat. 

Despite that, their account and the photograph was enough to convince Essex Police to issue a general alert and scramble armed police and a helicopter to begin scouring the area. In such a state of heightened awareness, it was almost inevitable that more sightings would follow - along with jokes and hoaxers (for a while, the 'lion' had its own Twitter account, which was later suspended for reasons that escape us here at Weird Island). Apparently convincing photographs soon appeared online and the area was flooded with reporters looking to fill their quota of bank holiday silly season holidays.

By the Tuesday, police had decided that the incident had been sparked by nothing less ordinary than a large domestic cat, and interest in the Lion began to fade. Of course, should the beast be real, we anticipate it cropping up before too much longer.

We're reminded that earlier this same year, the so-called "Shepley Lion" caused a similar flurry of convinced witnesses, police interest and public gaiety. It seems that public bodies - including the police - are surprisingly willing to suspend disbelief in such stories and evidently have resources on hand to devote serious man power to investigate them. In view of some people's belief in conspiracy theories and official efforts to hide something from the public, it seems odd that actually they are very quick to wheel out in force to lend credence to spurious flurries such as this.
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