On Wednesday morning, five lions escaped from their enclosure at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, forcing staff and visitors to hide in “safe zones” and triggering a security review of the zoo.
The lions – four adults and a cub – were seen outside their enclosure around 6.30am. A ‘code one’ alert shortly after sent the zoo into lockdown. The police were called at 7:10 a.m. and the lions returned to their enclosure just before 9 a.m.
A code one is the zoo’s most urgent alert, requiring an emergency response.
Simon Duffy, Taronga’s executive director of operations, told reporters the lions were seen in a “small area adjacent to the main lion exhibit”.
“A six-foot fence separated them from the rest of the zoo,” he said. “The zoo has very strict safety protocols in place for such an incident and immediate action has been taken.”
Duffy said the cub needed to be reassured, but otherwise the lions “came calmly back” to their enclosure.
“All animals are now safe in their exhibit at the back of the house and are closely monitored.
“I remind everyone that Taronga Zoo itself has its own security perimeter fence.
“So at no time did the lions come out of that area or Taronga Zoo.”
Duffy confirmed that a review of the incident is underway, with the exhibit due to undergo further inspection to ensure it is “100 per cent safe”. He did not specify how the lions managed to break through their fence.
Although the zoo is not yet open to general visitors, some members of the public were staying in tents at the park’s Roar and Snore nighttime experience, about 100 yards from the lion enclosure. Magnus Perri told Sydney media that his family were “about to eat breakfast and [zoo staff] came out shouting, shouting ‘code one, you have to get out of your tents…run, come with us’”.
Perri said they ran to a nearby building, were counted by staff and locked in a shower area.
“They told us they had this kind of training from time to time, but then we heard on the radio ‘they’re always out’, so we realized there was something there, and they said, ‘It’s the lions’.”
Police were called to the zoo as a precaution, but no injuries were reported.
The zoo confirmed the area was secure shortly before 9 a.m.
“An emergency occurred this morning at Taronga Zoo in Sydney when five lions were located outside their enclosure,” the zoo said in a statement.
Aerial footage showed guards patrolling the grounds during the emergency.
“All those on site have been moved to safe areas and there are no injuries to guests or staff.
“All animals are now in their exhibit, where they are closely monitored.”
The zoo, on Sydney’s Lower North Shore, confirmed it would be open on Wednesday.
“The zoo will be open as normal today. Further details will be provided when possible.
Tours and school visits should not be affected by the incident.
The incident comes nearly three years after a group of baboons escaped from a research center near Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital.
Animal escapes are rare in Taronga, but keepers are reportedly prepared for such occurrences with a plan of action involving anesthetic dart guns and nets.
In 2011, former Taronga keeper Terry Boylan told Australian Geographic that most animals were “very reluctant” to leave the safety of their enclosures.
In 1946, a Bengal tiger escaped into the zoo grounds. The visiting public was herded into an empty seal pen while the animal was tracked down by staff.
In 1972, a young female orangutan managed to climb onto the roof of the monkey house after tearing up the floor of her cage.
In the mid-1950s, former circus chimp Koko escaped and sprinted through the deserted zoo before jumping into the office manager’s car, where she was chloroformed by the keepers.
A Himalayan mountain goat once climbed its three-meter stone wall and made its way to a park in Balmoral.
And in 1967, an entellus langur monkey escaped from its concrete pit and made its way to nearby Bradleys Head, where it was shot by a zoo director.
In 2009, a lion escaped from its enclosure at Mogo Zoo on the south coast of New South Wales.