Lion from Berlin

Andrzej Jarynowski – FU Berlin (epizootiologist)

Jordan Oelke – TU Dresden (social geographer)

Vitaly Belik – FU Berlin (data scientist)

Shortly after midnight on Thursday 20.07 information about a “lioness” in the village of Kleinmachnow on the border between Berlin and Brandenburg spread like wildfire on social media and online news channels. A low quality 6 second video which was taken on the side of a roadway was posted on twitter and seemed to show a large mammalian body scrimmaging in the bushes with only the animal’s side, back and neck/ears visible. Some users (i.e hunters) were baffled and clearly saw a wild boar, rather. 


The mayor of the village of Kleinmachnow officially spoke of the ‘lioness’ in an official press conference and many news reports and reporters who took up the serious claim from the twitter post repeatedly throughout the day on the 20th. Accordingly, the streets remained ‘more quiet than usual’ as reported by a ‘WELT Nachrichtensender’ (20 July, 2023) correspondent, in response to the calls for (non) action while combined police, military, veterinary and crisis management teams split into units to handle the situation which reduced the fear for human safety from the village to the metropol of Berlin. For 30 hours straight, large financial resources were used up to facilitate a massive investigation of more than 100 personnel, with infrared cameras, combat weapons, etc (22 July, 2023, DW News). 

Let’s have a look at the role the media played (clickbaits and fuelling emotions) through a mixed-method (quantitative and qualitative) approach to the agenda setting of security and responsiveness in the face of such a grave ‘dangerous lion’, which subsequently generated viewership and advertising revenue. And then how peace (with a bit of humour) was restored when the ‘lioness’ was found out to be in fact a wild boar. 

Interest over time by searching given queries in Google in Berlin and Brandenburg (by GTL Google Trends:,now%207-d,now%207-d,now%207-d&geo=DE-BE,DE-BB,DE-BE,DE-BB&q=%2Fm%2F096mb,%2Fm%2F096mb,%2Fm%2F0dr47,%2Fm%2F0dr47&hl=en-GB)

Description: The 1st peak, the awareness of the threat, occurs around 7am on 20.07 when people are waking up and as a result of checking social media before work or hearing from a contact, inquire further into the situation about the lion. A local emergency took place as citizens received notifications in the morning to their smartphones to stay in their homes. The mention of a wild boar first started out as such a ‘food source’ with major disinformation being spread of the lion having chased after and/or consumed one. The media interest then naturally dropped, levelled out, as news reached the bigger metropol of Berlin. A concern would be tied to the ‘green’ wildlife corridors in the city as wild boars or lions may move between there and Brandenburg via the Grunewald forest. A correspondent for the Guardian also detailed the ideal forest canopies in Grunewald at the edge of the village to be an ideal ‘jungle’ substitute to hide out and that wild boars and other wildlife would provide nutritious and abundant food sources.

The 2nd peak occurring around 5am on 21.07 is the highest, when during the night of 20.07 and into the morning, people were eagerly waiting for the resolution of the issue, in the search throughout the night for the lioness. The threat to other potential food sources, specifically the lives of pets, as ‘ideal lion food’ were among the major subjects of focus in the media (July 21, 2023, Guardian News). The crisis response teams, starting already on 20.07, thus continued to move as quickly and efficiently as possible to secure the lives of humans and pets in Kleinmachnow and Berlin. 

Graph 2 (top): Course of interest in the “lion” in social and traditional media (by Brand 24)
Graph 3 (bottom): Emotions in social and traditional media  (by Brand 24). 
The values were provided on a daily basis and were smoothed. The sentiment shows the amount of emotional load of the posts on the internet. Positive attitude could correspond to optimism and humour and irony appearing in the discourse. 

Description: The attention of the general public (seen in GT) as well as traditional (high reach) and social media continued as the mayor, Michael Grubert, in his largest press conference ever, on July 20th, updated the citizens of Kleinmachnow and spectators following online that the ‘lioness’ had still not been found (carrying high mentions and negative corresponding emotions).

A biosecurity discourse about ‘wild boar(s)’ carried on online which generated more disinformation, as according to the mayor of Kleinmachnow, people ha mentioned that the lion(ess) may have been released by the city as a possible new wild boar hunting system.  “We are still trying to do it normally (hunting of wild boars) and will not set up a Serengeti Park in order to be able to solve the wild boar problem. But it is a serious situation.“(Global News on 20 July, 2023). Wild boars have historically been a major problem in the Berlin-Brandenburg (ravaging gardens and attacking pets) for the eyes of citizens, and now even more so with them being the main host of the African Swine Fever virus (we will touch more on this). Predators would theoretically provide a trickle down food chain effect to manage wild animal populations but as we can see with the return of wolves in Brandenburg and Saxony, many other issues come with this such as wolf attacks on livestock and hunter-wolf confrontations.

The change from traditional to social media

The interest continued until around 11AM on 21.07 with some level of fear (some level of negative emotion, but without signs of panic, and a feeling of security among those interviewed, likely as a result of the heavy police force). 

The demand for news (Graph 1) increases once again, for the last time, the climax (3rd peak) around  12AM on 21.07 when the investigation of the search, and a thorough examination of faeces/stool samples as well as a deep analysis of video footage conducted by an expert determined that the Berlin lioness was very likely, in fact, a wild boar. It was announced by the police chief Peter Foitzik and Michael Grubert, the town mayor, who held up a picture showing the variations in wild boar and lion body structures in front of a podium of reporters and citizens, accompanied by an official press release on the town’s website (July 22, 2023, Gemeinde Kleinmachnow).

(Left) wild boar footprint being measured and compared; (right) body construction of wild boars versus lions 
Source: ‘Doch keine Löwin in der Region’. Gemeinde Kleinmachnow. 22.07.2023

The 3rd and final peak, the climax, started around 12 pm on 21.07, where wild boars finally became a central topic as a result of the truth (of the lioness being a wild boar) being revealed. However, Graph 2 and 3 show that the mentions online across both forms of media are still high despite the drop off of news releases, likely with social media carrying the weight as people’s mood started to likely change from one of worry to amusement. Panic now dies down as the situation is resolved. The media circus’ ‘after life’ emerged in memes and satiric discussion on social media at the expense of authorities (still high flow of mentions with a lot of positive attitude) during the weekend 22-23.07.  

WB vs Lion Sample of Netnography (source left: right:

Here we can see that one wild boar who disguised itself as a lion, and later unmasked to the public, shows that there are worse things that can threaten human life and pets (bios), rather than the virus’s threat to livestock (emotional burden of farmers and economic threat) and wild boar lives (less of a concern for the majority of citizens), or the threat to gardens and the rare pet or human life. Helping to put into context the normalisation of wild boars in Berlin, as everyone calmed down, and to show that the obvious answer at times is overlooked and the mind goes towards something spectacular. Expertise of hunters was not asked for, and the problem of ’naming‘ animals a lion based on the twitter post could have been avoided this way. One hunting school on the outskirts of Berlin offered afterwards to teach interested people about how to distinguish between the animals. The same problem of inclusion exists with the intensive hunting of wild boars and fencing to contain ASF in Brandenburg and Saxony, which could have also better included their lengthy and thorough experiences over time with wild boars.
The presence of Classical Swine Fever in the 1980’s enabled their eradication under disease control laws (Fleischmann, 2020). Today, in addition to wild boars still being a concern for many citizens in Berlin, the endemic presence of the African Swine Fever virus in wild boars in the German-Polish borderland may be another catalyst for their eradication from the city, with high media attention every time an event such as farm infections or long-distance viral jumps occur (Jarynowski et al, 2021). Although not shocked by a wild boar, if ASF reaches Germany, we may see such a media circus return, and the result will be chaotic. Citizens do not normally accept hunting in and around the city (Oelke et al, 2022), but trapping will likely have to be included, which has already been employed with resistance from animal rights groups in cities such as Barcelona, Hong-Kong and others.