Police are trying to trace the owner of a life-sized tiger toy which sparked a major police alert in Hampshire over fears a real animal was on the loose.
Officers were deployed and a helicopter was scrambled with specialist thermal imaging cameras over the field, near Hedge End, on Saturday afternoon.
The scare stopped play at the Rose Bowl cricket ground for 20 minutes.
Hampshire police said the toy was being treated as lost property but they were investigating whether it was a hoax.
They said they did not know how it got there but was similar to one which would be won at a fair.
The alarm was raised by a member of the public who spotted what they thought was an escaped white tiger hiding in a field, through a camera's zoom lens.
Officers said they had responded as if it was a real incident, close to junction seven of the M27.
Animal specialists at nearby Marwell Zoo were enlisted by police to offer advice and were prepared to send a team with tranquiliser darts to overcome the tiger.
John Pullen, curator of mammals, said: "We offered advice to the police and we immediately gathered a team of staff who have been trained to deal with situations such as this.
"We were moments away from making the journey when we received a call from police to say it was a stuffed toy."
Golfers at County Golf Club were also escorted from the course and Saturday's cricket game between Hampshire Academy and South Wilts was suspended for about half an hour.
Tony Middleton, Hampshire Cricket Academy director, added: "Rumours came round that there was a tiger on the golf course and we just carried on playing until a policeman came over and told us to clear the area.
"I assumed there was [a tiger] with everything that was going on, but we felt quite safe here."
Officers discovered it to be a stuffed toy after it rolled over in the down draft from the police helicopter.
"It is being treated as lost property but we don't know how it came to be in the field and whether it may have been a hoax.
"Police are keen to reiterate that they have a duty to protect the public and therefore take calls of this nature as serious as any other calls reporting potential dangers to members of the public," a spokeswoman said.
- 21 May 2011