- Damian McGuinness in Berlin and Katherine Armstrong in London
- BBC News
A member of a notorious German crime family has offered his help in capturing a suspected escaped lion in the southern suburbs of Berlin.
The police have been searching for more than a day after receiving information that a wild animal is absconding, but have not found it yet.
Now, the Remmo family head’s son has said he can “take the lioness back to her enclosure.”
Fras Remmo urged the authorities not to shoot the creature.
In a post on social media, he asked anyone with information on the animal’s whereabouts to “let him know first” so he can take action “before some idiot shoots her”.
It is not yet clear whether the sought-after animal is a lion, as no DNA material such as paw-prints or animal droppings have been found in the areas where the animals are said to have been found.
They said two officers saw the animal about 20m (65ft) away on Thursday night and identified it as a “big cat”.
Others are not so sure. An expert told Berlin’s local radio station RBB that from the footage he saw, the animal looked like a pig, which is common in the region.
Local zoos, animal sanctuaries and circuses ensure that no lions escape their facilities.
An overnight search for the animal has been intensified on Friday on the recommendation of experts.
About 120 police officers and wildlife experts such as veterinarians are now searching local wooded areas. Drones, helicopters and heat-seeking cameras are also used.
Kleinmachno mayor Michael Grubert said the first objective of the search for the animal was to capture it, but “other measures will only be taken if there is a risk to the lives of police officers or others”.
Around a dozen animals were reported to police overnight, including in the affluent Zehlendorf area within Berlin’s city limits.
However, the officials were not amused as the youths started blaring loud roaring lion sounds over a loudspeaker near the area where the raid was taking place.
“This does not help the local community or the police in the search for the animal,” police spokeswoman Kerstin Schroeder told RBB.
Paul Landau, who lives in the area initially searched, told Reuters he thought a dangerous person was in the area.
“It was not known at first whether it was a lion or a wild animal. They told us to close the doors and windows and not let anyone inside,” he said.
“So we thought it was about a person, not an animal.”
Residents are advised to keep their pets with them and avoid forested areas.
Wildlife expert Herribert Hofer of Berlin’s Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research told Reuters that anyone encountering a wild animal should stop rather than run away.
“If possible, you should also avoid turning your back to the animal. Avoid looking the animal directly in the eye.”
Authorities concentrated their search in a large area next to a tree where people walk their dogs, where they thought the lion might be sleeping.
On Thursday evening, a local resident said they had “just seen” the lion and that the search for the animal had entered a “hot phase”, German outlet Bild reported, with officers shouting at the joggers to “get out of the forest quickly”.
According to Mr Hofer, while private ownership of big cats is illegal in Berlin, it is possible in the neighboring state of Brandenburg – the state that surrounds the German capital.
However, the owner must have a certificate and meet other strict requirements, he told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Vanessa Amoroso, head of wildlife at Four Pass, said inconsistent laws across Europe have made the trade in big cats too easy because they are allowed as pets in many countries.
He called on the German government to regulate the trade and keeping of exotic animals.
“Germany’s position as one of the world’s largest markets for wild animals as pets calls for effective measures to prevent potential buyers from easily obtaining animals through online platforms and exchanges,” he added.
Loïs Lelanchon of the International Fund for Animal Welfare says the trend towards exotic pets is fueled by social media, with big cats seen as a status symbol.
“This reckless practice must be stopped to prevent animal suffering and human lives from being endangered,” he said.