MAINZ, Germany — A lion was on the loose near Berlin on Thursday, prompting more than a hundred police officers, veterinarians, hunters, drones and helicopters to join the search for the animal, while the public were warned to keep their pets inside.
Police said the creature was spotted in the town of Kleinmachnow on the southwestern outskirts of the German capital by a witness who raised the alarm and contacted the police, as well as capturing a brief video clip.
Police spokesman Daniel Keip told NBC News early Thursday that authorities were searching for a big cat that was seen feeding on what was likely a wild boar around midnight.
He confirmed that a video that has been widely shared on social media was forwarded to police.
During the night, police “deployed helicopters and thermal imaging cameras,” Keip said. “We presently do not know where the animal is,” he added.
At a later news conference, Kleinmachnow Mayor Michael Grubert said that the animal was “still on the run and has not been found yet.” Local kindergartens were staying open but children should not leave the compound unaccompanied, he said.
He added that it was a relief that older children had started their vacations last week and were not on their way to and from school but urged them to stay home.
How the lion got loose is unknown.
Police said in a press release that they contacted local animal parks, zoos and circuses but none were missing a lion. Officers were investigating whether it may have come from a private household.
Overnight, authorities warned the public with loudspeaker announcements, on warning apps and on Twitter. “There is no curfew in place at the moment, but we are advising residents not to take their dogs for a walk through the nearby forests,” Keip said.
A spokesperson for the local district of Potsdam-Mittlemark, which has also deployed a veterinarian in the search, said that hunters are on the scene with stun ammunition and regular bullets that can be used against a wild animal of that size. “The regular ammunition in police weapons would not necessarily work,” the spokesperson said.
Authorities believe the big cat might be sleeping somewhere. “Cats sleep up to 17 hours per day and if this animal just fed, it might not be moving around,” the spokesperson said. “Then it could be like looking for needle in a haystack.”
A decision had not been taken on how to contain the animal, though authorities say their main goal is to capture the animal alive. “It depends on the situation,” the spokesperson said, adding that it could either be stunned or shot.
The story has gripped the German public, with news websites and broadcasters leading on the story.
Germany has a long history of escaped animals making headlines. In 2012, a crocodile was spotted in a Bavarian lake; in 2014, a cow fled the slaughterhouse and gored a jogger; and in April, a bear killed two sheep in Bavaria.
Andy Eckardt reported from Mainz and Patrick Smith from London.