Police, who believe the animal to be an escaped pet, were first alerted around midnight by two members of the public who recorded cellphone footage of what appeared to be a wild boar and a lion chasing each other. The pig’s body was never found.
“Even experienced officers had to conclude that she may have been a lioness,” a police spokesperson told local broadcaster RBB.
Authorities believe the wild cat may currently be sleeping in one of the many lake forests in Brandenburg, the state that surrounds the German capital.
“We recommend that people not leave the house for a walk, and especially not to run in the woods,” said Michael Gruber, mayor of Kleinmachnau, a municipality on the southwestern border of Berlin where the animal was first spotted.
Her tracking operation was expanded using two helicopters, two drones and infrared cameras in the early hours of Thursday as 100 police officers joined fishermen and vets.
They will aim to pacify, capture and kill animals only if they pose a danger to people, Gruber said, adding that the search is now concentrated in the northeastern part of the municipality.
Since no zoos or circuses have reported a missing lioness, the police believe she must be an escaped pet.
Animal rights groups have criticized successive governments for failing to ban the practice of keeping wild animals as pets.
“Over the past two decades, there have been frequent cases of massive escapes from homes and circuses,” said Peter Hofkin of the rights group PETA. “Despite countless warnings, politicians have failed to ban the keeping of exotic wildlife.”
There is no wild animal circus currently on the road in eastern Germany, “and they wouldn’t run away either (if there was),” circus keeper Michel Ramon Rugal told Reuters.
Written by Tobias Schley
(Reporting by Rachel Moore; Writing by Frederick Hein and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Bernadette Boehm and John Stonestreet)