People in Southend and the surrounding areas have been told to remain calm and stay indoors until further notice after a lion was spotted in Priory Park near the town centre at 9.15pm this evening. According to witnesses who were looking through the fences of the park with a mixture of shock and disbelief, the conditions were too dark to get any meaningful photos, but representatives of local zoos have all confirmed in the last few minutes that all lions and other big cats have been counted and verified – it is thought that the lion that has been spotted belongs to a local family who have been accused of keeping lions and other exotic animals illegally as pets.
A woman who lives in Bournemouth Park Road, who doesn’t want to be named through fear of attack from her neighbours, said: ‘I have been saying to my husband for quite some time that the people next door are a threat to everyone else in the local community, and within the last few weeks their behaviour has spiralled out of control. They started off with a few aggressive dogs to try and intimidate all of their neighbours, and then when someone was selling a lion on a local Facebook buy and sell group last week they were the first to comment and agree a price – I knew straight away that this would not end well. I would guess, from seeing it in their back garden, that it is a juvenile male lion, and they keep telling visiting police officers that it is an alsatian dog with some personality issues and bad hair. All it ever seems to do is wander around their back garden all day and growl at the pigeons, and now I am 100% sure that it must have escaped.’
The Chief Reporter has spoken with animal control officers who are responsible for escaped animals in South Essex, and a senior official admitted that they are currently powerless to act as there is no procedure in place for dealing with large cats – he added that a team of experts is due to arrive in Southend at around midnight once they have finished dealing with a suspected pallas cat sighting in West London. Hectar Mane is the head of the Essex-based Lion Watch, a group set up in the aftermath of the last major Essex big cat sighting in 2012, and he said: ‘We currently get more than 1000 lion sighting reports every year in the county of Essex, but tonight’s incident is the first one since 2012 that we have designated as ‘Level 1′ – this is the highest possible level of sighting, and we only declare a Level 1 when the person calling in is verified to have not consumed excessive amounts of Special Brew, Skol or another similar above-average strength alcoholic beverage. Until the emergency is brought under control, we would advise local people to remain indoors, but if they do bump into the lion there really isn’t any need to panic. It is well-known that domesticated lions will only try and eat meat that has been cut up and prepared into manageable portions, and so human beings that are not carrying neatly-butchered packets of meat really have nothing to worry about. As a precaution, we have informed all McDonalds drive-thru restaurants in the local area to stick to vegetarian items until further notice.’
Mr Mane added: ‘If you do see the lion and want to report its whereabouts to Lion Watch, please take a photo and share it to your own Facebook feed – in times of local emergencies all relevant enforcement agencies are granted full access to your news feed and they will be able to get all of the details from your given location.’