Six lions have been put down by staff at Longleat Safari Park, resulting in public outrage and reportedly leaving keepers “angry and upset”.
A spokesperson for the park in the grounds of Longleat House, Wiltshire, confirmed reports that an adult male Henry, an adult female, Louisa, and her four cubs were killed earlier this year “as a last resort”.
According to reports in the Mail on Sunday, one former member of staff said the animals were put down while the park was closed for the winter “so no one knew what was going on”, adding that “a lot of people who know what happened are very upset and angry”.
Issuing a statement on its official Facebook page, Longleat – which opened its gates again for the year on Saturday – said the animals’ health had been at risk from “violent behaviour” as a result of overcrowding in the lions’ enclosure.
“There has been a large increase in pregnancies, resulting in a 40 per cent increase in population,” the statement read. “This has unfortunately resulted in excessive violent behaviour, putting 21 of them at risk.
“Sadly one lion, Henry, had to be put down earlier this year due to injuries from an attack within the enclosure. The further lions referred to were put down due to associated and severe health risks.
“Following these incidents, five lions from this enclosure are to be moved to other premises. Longleat takes the utmost care in trying to protect the welfare and safety of all our animals.
The post received hundreds of angry comments, including Cheryl Carroll saying: “Can't believe you put innocent, beautiful animals to their death!”.
Facebook user Joanne Ross-Crawley wrote: “Where was your contraception program? This is a disgrace, this is mismanagement and you tried to get away with it on the quiet! Absolute rubbish you should be ashamed!”
A spokesperson for Longleat replied to these comments, saying the deaths had come as “an absolute last resort” and that the park would “address concerns in due course”.