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'Escaped lion' was a stray dog

A police search launched after reports of an escaped lion was called off today after the animal on the loose turned out to be a big dog, not a big cat.

A full-scale operation involving a police helicopter was initiated in north Belfast last night when a large sandy-coloured animal was spotted prowling in a public park close to the grounds of Belfast Zoo.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland received a number of reports from concerned members of the public all of whom had spotted what they thought was a lion in Cavehill Park in the north of the city.

Zoo keepers conducted an urgent check of all compounds, including those housing lion and tigers, but reported that all animals were accounted for.
A police spokeswoman said officers now believed the animal in the park was in fact a large stray dog.

"Police can confirm that there's no stray lion wandering about in north Belfast," she said.
There are regular claimed sightings of big cats roaming the Northern Ireland countryside where laws are different to the rest of the UK and people are legally allowed to keep such dangerous animals.

There have been reports of panthers or pumas savaging livestock - though police would say most sightings are eventually put down to being particularly large feral cats.
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