Animal lovers who signed up for a special overnight stay at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo ended up with a closer encounter than they bargained for after five African lions escaped.
“They came running into the tent area saying: ‘This is a Code One, get out of your tent and run, come now and leave your belongings behind,’ ” one guest, Magnus Perri, told local media as he and his family left the zoo. “... They opened the door [to a building], everyone got in, they counted us, and they locked the door.”
At first, the guests thought it was a drill, but they soon realized something more serious was amiss, Perri explained. “We realized, ‘Okay, something’s outside — what is it?’ And they said, ‘Ah, it’s the lions.’ So we were like, ‘Ooh, scary!’ ”
Video footage shows Ato, an adult male, and four of his 1-year-old cubs escaped into an area next to the main exhibit.
While they had breached one fence, they remained separated from the rest of the zoo by a second fence that the zoo described as “a containment fence for people” and a “safe barrier.” That fence is six feet tall — although some lions have been known to jump to a height of more than 11 feet.
Fortunately for the zoo’s staff and visitors, four of the five lions “calmly” made their way back to their dens, while the remaining cub was safely tranquilized and returned to the den, Taronga Zoo said in a statement.
“We have since reviewed video footage, and we have confirmed it was less than 10 minutes between the lions exiting the main exhibit, and the emergency response being enacted,” the zoo said, adding that it regularly conducts safety drills to prepare for such scenarios.
An initial investigation found that “an integrity issue” with a containment fence was to blame, and the animals were moved to a secure holding area pending a full review.
Police had also been called to the zoo, with Commissioner Karen Webb telling local media: “It’s not very often we get called to lions on the loose.”
No injuries were reported and the zoo was able to open normally on Wednesday.
This is not the first time an animal has escaped at Taronga Zoo: In January 2021, a chimpanzee was briefly seen sitting outside its enclosure, before — like most of the lions — deciding to make its own way back inside.