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How did a wild boar sighting in Berlin turn into a two-day lion hunt?

Imogen Goodman
Imogen Goodman - [email protected]
How did a wild boar sighting in Berlin turn into a two-day lion hunt?
Kleinmachnow mayor Michael Grubert (SPD) holds up a still of the 'lioness' video with expert analysis. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

For more than 24 hours, hundreds of police in Berlin searched for a suspected lioness - but now authorities say the wild cat was probably a boar. So how did such an everyday event turn into an international media storm?


What's going on?

It all began with a short, grainy video filmed by two men who reported seeing something rather unexpected: a wild boar being hunted by what appeared to be a lioness. 

The seconds-long video, which was sent to police on Thursday night and later shared on social media, depicts a large wild animal prowling the forests near Berlin. It fuelled feverish speculation about whether a lioness truly had found its way into a suburb of the German capital, and prompted an immediate operation to find and capture the predator.


The 30-hour search was largely concentrated in the southern district of Zehlendorf, though residents in other nearby areas were told to be on their guard. In Potsdam, a small city on the outskirts of Berlin, authorities issued a warning: "Eyes open! Potsdam is not far away," the city announced on Twitter.

Helicopters scoured the forests, dogs were set loose to sniff out the mauled remains of a wild boar believed to be eaten by the lioness, and wildlife experts and hunters worked alongside hundreds of emergency workers to hunt down and capture the animal. 

The Berlin 'lioness' also made headlines around the world.

But after attempting to find traces of the lioness well into the night on Thursday and throughout the morning on Friday, the panicked search came to a rather abrupt and banal end.

"We no longer have a dangerous situation," Michael Grubert (SPD), the mayor of the district of Kleinmachnow, said in a statement. Two experts were commissioned to view the video footage and independently came to the conclusion that it was a wild boar, he said. 

READ ALSO: Search for Berlin 'lioness' ends as mayor claims it was likely a boar

Let's slow down a bit. So the lioness wasn't actually a lioness?

That's what it sounds like. Though the animal in the video appeared much more exotic than your typical domestic Wildschwein (wild boar), all the evidence so far points to a pig rather than a lion. 


To conduct their research, the experts assessed the physical traits and body composition of a lioness - including comparisons of how the shape of a lioness' back might look when hunting a trail through the forest.

They compared their analysis with the animal depicted in the video - which had been previously confirmed as real footage - and came to the conclusion that the animal was highly unlikely to have been a wild cat. In fact, they said, it was far more likely to have been a wild boar.

Naturally, news of the mix-up was greeted with relish on social media. 

Even before the results of the video analysis were known, however, numerous experts had aired scepticism over whether a lioness was truly roaming the streets of Kleinmachnow.

Berliner wildlife expert Derk Ehlert was among them, telling RBB on Friday morning: "I see two wild boars running from left to right in this video".

Another major cause for suspicion was the fact that, aside from the initial sighting on Thursday night, no other traces of the supposed lioness - or its prey - were found throughout the search. 

READ ALSO: 'Lioness' reported on the loose around Berlin


"Basically, a lion cannot just be gone, not even a lioness like that. It leaves tracks," Ehlert said. "It is quite striking that at the spot where the animal was seen and filmed, there is not even a tread mark to be seen." 

Wildlife experts also pointed out that, had a lioness truly hunted down and killed a wild boar in the night, hunting dogs would have been able to sniff out the remains almost immediately. 

It had also been unclear where this mystery lioness would have come from. Countless calls to zoos, wildlife shelters and even circuses in the area had been a dead end, leading to (slightly wild) speculation that someone may have been privately keeping a lion in their home. 

How did this all get blown out of proportion? 

That's a very good question - and one that the authorities will no doubt face questions on in the coming days.

In fact, within hours of the search being called off, the deputy chair of the German police union, Heiko Teggatz, slammed the operation in the tabloid media.

"This operation is without a doubt the most expensive safari ever in Germany's forests!", Teggatz fumed in Bild. Enlisting the help of drones, helicopters and hundreds of emergency personnel could easily cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of euros, he said. 

But Kleinmachnow mayor Grubert was quick to defend himself.

Kleinmachnow mayor Michael Grubert (SPD)

Kleinmachnow mayor Michael Grubert (SPD) holds up a still of the 'lioness' video with expert analysis. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Paul Zinken

"The danger situation was such that the deployment of the police was justified," he told reporters. He said that the municipality did not incur many costs, but the police did - though at the moment it is unclear just how high these additional costs were. 

Peter Foitzik, head of operations, also said the scale of the search was proportionate since authorities had been unable to rule out the lioness theory at first. 

"No evidence (of the animal) has been confirmed and therefore this dangerous situation has ended," he added.

READ ALSO: What to know about Germany's wild boars - and how to stay safe around them


However, it's clear that the idea of a lioness on the loose in Berlin captured many people's imaginations and really took on a life of its own.

The dramatic hunt was reported on internationally in media outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, while social media was awash with real-time updates, gossip about the 'lioness' and a number of hilarious memes.

The satirical paper Der Postillion even imagined a confrontation between the misplaced lion and an angry Berlin cyclist, who are known for being just a little bit territorial about their Radwege (cycle paths).

Despite the fact that nobody actually came across the lioness after the initial sighting, there was also plenty of hearsay - and a few hoaxes - that continued to fuel speculation well into Friday.

Along with sightings that couldn't be confirmed, police had received reports of lion roars in the district of Zehlendorf near the city limits.

On Friday, however, these turned out to be fake: a group of youngsters had been out and about on the streets on the southern suburb emitting lion roars and other safari noises with their smartphones and a Bluetooth speaker. 

"This does not help the community or the police," a spokesperson for the police said on Friday. However, many secretly agreed that it sounded like fun. 


So as the hunters pack away their tranquilisers, the emergency teams resume their ordinary activities and the helicopters return to their bases on Friday, Berlin returns to normality in time for the weekend.

But in years to come, many will look back fondly on the time a lioness came to visit the German capital for a few days - if only in our heads. 


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