The truck had been parked at a carnival lot in the city's northeastern district of Barmen and bore no markings that would indicate it belonged to a circus or contained live freight when it was taken on Tuesday.
According to Wuppertal police spokeswoman Claudia Otto, Circus Probst filed a stolen vehicle report and explained that their five-year-old carnivore “Caesar” was in the truck and likely getting hungry and thirsty.
“At same time an anonymous report came in around 2 am that a truck had crashed into a traffic sign and the driver had fled,” Otto told The Local.
Officers secured the vehicle, which was found some two kilometres from where it was stolen, and had it towed to a police lot for further investigation.
“There it sat overnight until this morning when someone realised that the missing lion was in the truck,” she said. “My colleagues there tell me he is relaxed and doing well.”
While big cat Caesar is on his way back to the circus, which is headed on to perform shows in Krefeld, police are searching for the unsuccessful thief.
“It's a happy ending,” Otto said.