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How the Hunt for a Lioness Near Berlin Turned Into a Wild Boar Chase

A frenzied hunt for a loose lioness on the outskirts of Berlin that prompted the deployment of helicopters, drones and night-vision-goggle-clad police officers came to an unexpected end after the authorities announced that it was likely a case of mistaken identity.

After experts were called in to analyze grainy cellphone footage that prompted a two-day search, they independently came to the same conclusion: “We think that this photo probably shows a wild boar,” Michael Grubert, the mayor of Kleinmachnow, just southwest of the German capital, said at a news conference on Friday afternoon.

It was an anti-climactic end to a search that captivated Germany and upended a constellation of communities on the southern edge of the city, after officials sent more than 100 police officers — equipped with riot gear, thermal imaging cameras and at least one armored vehicle — thrashing through a trio of heavily wooded towns.

The lioness-turned-pig saga began when two men captured a short, blurry video of what they believed was a lion chasing a wild boar and reported it to the police around midnight Thursday. The search began quickly and escalated rapidly.

In an attempt to determine where the animal came from, the police called the owners of a local circus at 2 a.m.

“They asked if we are missing a lion,” said Dinara Rogall, who helps run Circus Rogall in Teltow.

Alerts blanketed social media and local news stations, urging residents to stay inside and cancel any outdoor events. Police officers scoured forested areas, searching for any sign of a big cat. A team from a nearby zoo mobilized and drove to the stakeout, prepared to shoot the lioness with a tranquilizer gun, while a separate team of hunters was assembled and put on standby.

As night fell on the first day of the search, some residents told the police that they had heard loud roars coming from a nearby forest. (A German television network later determined that the provenance of the roars, which made international headline news, was teenagers playing animal noises loudly on a speaker.)

“The atmosphere was quite tense,” Uda Bastians, a resident of Kleinmachnow, said in an interview. “There weren’t many people in the street, and the people you met, everyone was a bit afraid.”

Ms. Bastians said on the first day of the search, amid a constant hum of helicopters flying overhead, she decided not to take her dog out for walks, and instead exercised him in the garden. “Then the longer the search took, the less everyone cared,” she said. “Everyone was still, ‘OK, we don’t go into the woods and don’t let our dogs run free.’ But you can’t stay in your garden for two days.”

The decision to call off the search was made after a resident called the police on Friday morning reporting that they had seen the lion. The police flew a drone over the area and sent in a team of 30 officers equipped with heat-imaging cameras. They found nothing except a family of wild boars.

The announcement that it had been a false alarm, Ms. Bastians said, came as a “huge surprise.”

“A wild boar doesn’t really look like a lion, and we have a lot of wild boars,” she said. “Everyone has seen wild boars, and we all know lions from boars.”

Heribert Hofer, the director of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, said that the police in Berlin and Brandenburg were “not naïve,” and were accustomed to fielding both “hoaxes and inadvertent hoaxes.”

“There are reports every year of crocodiles turning up in the lakes where people go swimming, and in the end, they usually turn out to be geese or large ducks that people don’t recognize in strange light conditions,” he said. “But they also know that people have pets, and particularly during Covid time, people have acquired pets — sometimes strange tropical creatures, and sometimes dangerous creatures — and quite a few of them have released them again.”

Dr. Hofer, who has worked in the Serengeti since 1987 and lived there for over a decade, said a local official reached out to him on Friday morning and asked him to analyze the blurry video of the alleged lioness. Some of the characteristics of the animal in the video, he said, were consistent with the features of a wildcat. But there were also other factors — like the length of the creature’s tail, and a fleeting glimpse of a young boar running through the frame — that called the identification into question.

“I can see some of the reasons for confusion,” he said.

Wild boars have a long history of menacing Berliners. They are so endemic to the area that some housing associations threaten to punish with eviction residents who feed the animals.

In 2020, wild boars were repeatedly sighted rifling through bathers’ belongings at a popular swimming lake on the city’s west side. In one viral incident documented by a bystander, a pig, nicknamed Elsa, and its piglets made off with a nude swimmer’s laptop. Weeks later, another video of a wild boar, believed to be Elsa, surfaced, showing the pig crashing a child’s birthday party at a nearby park and nabbing a piece of cake.

Speaking at the news conference on Friday, Mr. Grubert, the Kleinmachnow mayor, implored reporters to consider the risks that could have arisen from not taking the reports seriously.

“Imagine if it had been the other way around,” he said.

Melissa Eddy contributed reporting.



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