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UK police call off search for Essex lion

By Oliver Joy
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Mon September 17, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The search for a lion in Essex, near London, has been called off
  • However, Twitter has been active with lion "sightings"
  • The search came after holidaymakers said they saw a lioness in a field

(CNN) -- The search for a lion in Essex, near London, has been called off -- even as the big cat's fame grows on Twitter.

According to a police spokesman, the sighting of a lion Sunday night was most likely a "large domestic cat or a wildcat." The spokesman added: "Nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area."

The search had been underway since holidaymakers reported seeing a lioness roaming through the fields Sunday evening.

As the search continued many took to Twitter to claim sightings, while the @EssexLion account picked up more than 35,000 followers.

Personal trainer Danny Osborne claimed the "lion" is in fact a snow leopard with a fake tan and hair extensions, while comedian David Schneider tweeted he spotted the lion taking refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

The police statement said: "We would like to thank the local community and holidaymakers for their patience and support throughout the past 24 hours, as the police and media presence would have been somewhat overwhelming for them."

The lion's Twitter fame followed holidaymakers reporting what they believed was a lioness on the loose. Sue Wright told CNN she believed she saw a "a lioness in the field" when she looked through her binoculars following an alert from her sister-in-law.

Wright said the animal was very big -- probably reaching above a person's waist.

She said she became "very concerned particularly when it stood up, because we weren't sure in what direction it was going to head."

In an earlier statement, Essex Police had said both they and experts from Colchester Zoo had scoured the area, using the police helicopter's thermal imaging camera to try to find the animal.

The police had advised people to be "extra vigilant and cautious."

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