Police in southern England launched a large-scale operation, including a helicopter team with thermal imaging cameras, after reports of a white tiger stalking prey near a golf course in Hampshire.
Several members of the public had reported seeing a tiger in a field near Hedge End on Saturday, including one person who had watched the predator through a camera’s zoom lens and was convinced it was real.
The local police force went on major alert. Golfers at a nearby club were escorted from the course, and police prepared to shut a highway in case the tiger decided to make a run for it. Play stopped at a cricket ground, and spectators were told to return to their cars.
“We were all told to go back to our cars and stay there with the windows wound up,” Trevor Haywood, who was watching his son play cricket, told the Daily Mail. “Three other police cars arrived and I saw two officers go off on the back of a golf buggy armed with a rifle. It looked like they were going on safari.”
Police officers arranged a tranquilizer dart from a local zoo, and scrambled a helicopter team with thermal imaging cameras to track the tiger from the air.
Officers observing the tiger from the ground initially thought the beast was real — but then realized it wasn’t moving.
"After a brief stalk through the Hedge End savannah, the officer realized the tiger was not moving and the air support using their cameras realized there was a lack of heat source," a police spokeswoman told the Guardian.
The “wild animal” then blew over in the helicopter’s down draft, “and it was at that point it became obvious it was a stuffed life-size toy,” she said.
"This incident will definitely be the highlight of our day. The CCTV footage convinced us all we were dealing with a real tiger.”
Police are now searching for the owner of the cuddly, life-size plush tiger, which is being treated as lost property. They are also investigating whether or not it was a hoax. So far there is no information about how the toy ended up in a field or who owns it.
Sussex Police helicopter officials had reported the incident on Twitter (@SEASU_Copters). "Tiger seen near golf course, concerns for members of the public!” they tweeted.
A little later, there was another tweet: "Initially there was great concern for the public that a tiger had escaped the local zoo, luckily, it wasn't real."