German police extended the search Friday for a wild animal believed to be a lioness roaming the outskirts of Berlin more than 24 hours since the last reported sighting.
In a story that has fascinated Germany and livened up the summer “silly season”, two people spotted what appeared to be a lioness early Thursday chasing a wild boar down a street outside the capital and made a short, grainy video.
But their account and a sighting by police officers remain the only evidence so far of the wild animal, more at home on the African savanna than the sandy soils of eastern Germany.
Police continued combing the streets of suburban communities southwest of Berlin in the small hours of Friday using night-vision goggles and drones but called off a forest search until daybreak, a spokesman said.
The mayor of the town of Kleinmachnow, Michael Grubert, told public broadcaster RBB that professional animal trackers searching for dung or bloody remains of prey had been enlisted alongside police, veterinarians and hunters.
But he acknowledged that the massive operation involving over 100 police officers as well as helicopters and thermal-imaging cameras was stretching his community’s resources.
“This can’t go on for days,” he said.
Once the animal is found, it will likely be sedated with a tranquiliser and taken to an animal shelter, Grubert said.
A reporter for RBB said that the 32 registered lions in Brandenburg state surrounding Berlin were accounted for, leaving police to ask whether the beast had been kept illegally. No owner has come forward since the search began early Thursday.
‘Into thin air’
Despite numerous tips from citizens, including a few claiming to have heard a loud roar, none of the information had led to the animal being located so far, police said.
Residents in the area have been advised “to act with appropriate caution and to avoid the adjacent forests” and to keep pets and farm animals in safety.
Anyone crossing paths with the big cat should “seek safety immediately and call the police”, Brandenburg police said.
Despite the reported sightings by the passers-by and police, wild animal expert Derk Ehlert voiced doubt it was actually a lioness on the loose due to the absence of any trace of the beast since early Thursday.
“A lioness doesn’t just disappear into thin air,” he told public radio.
It’s not the first time Germans have been told to be on the lookout for wild animals.
In May, residents in the central German city of Erfurt were jolted by the sight of a kangaroo hopping across a busy road after escaping from a private property.
In 2019, it took several days for a deadly cobra to be recaptured in the western town of Herne, where residents had been told to keep their windows closed and steer clear of tall grass.
In 2016, German zookeepers shot dead a lion after it escaped from its enclosure in the eastern city of Leipzig and a tranquiliser failed to stop it.