Updated at 10 a.m. ET: LONDON -- Armed police officers called off a search for a lion that had been seen roaming in a field near a British village after they found no trace of the animal on Monday.
About 25 officers and a helicopter had been looking for signs of a large feline near St Osyth, Essex. Sky News reported that workers from a local zoo were were also on patrol with tranquilizer guns. Most police officers in the U.K. do not carry firearms on a day-to-day basis.
A statement on the Essex Police website said:
"We believe what was seen on Sunday evening was either a large domestic cat or a wildcat. Extensive searches have been carried out, areas examined and witnesses spoken to; yet nothing has been found to suggest that a lion was in the area. 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."
Experts from the nearby Colchester Zoo had said they believed the report was genuine after examining a photograph sent in by a member of the public.
Donna Veasey, a spokeswoman for the Essex Police, earlier told ITV News that officers were planning to spend Monday morning looking for signs of an animal, such as pawprints.
Resident Che Kevlin had told the BBC that he heard something that "sounded like the roar of a lion" on Sunday night.
"It was worrying as we had just been for a walk with the dog," he added. "We saw the police helicopter but thought it was just searching for a person."
More on this story from ITV News
Officials said all of Colchester Zoo's animals had been accounted for.
Dave Sparks, who runs the Red Lion pub near where the animal was reportedly spotted, described the situation as "quite surreal" but added did not feel like he was in any real danger.
"You don't really expect to be told that a lion is wandering around the area," Sparks told ITV News.
An earlier statement on the Essex Police website had said:
"Residents living in the St Osyth area are being advised to stay indoors after police received reports of a lion being seen in a field.
The large cat, believed to be a lion, was seen in fields off Earls Hall Drive in St Oysth, near Clacton, just before 7pm.
There is an increased police presence in the area, including firearms officers and the police helicopter searching near where it was spotted."
The BBC added:
"The news of a potential lion on the loose has captured the public imagination and three Twitter accounts -- @EssexLion, @TheEssexLion and @Essex_Lion -- were quickly set up."
St Osyth is located about 75 miles northeast of London.
ITV News is NBC's UK partner.
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