Leipzig zoo shot Motshegetsi the lion dead, bosses admit

‘We had no choice’, zoo’s director says

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Staff at Leipzig zoo shot dead one of two escaped lions after a tranquiliser dart failed to sedate it, the zoo has admitted.

The young male lions, named Majo and Motshegetsi, escaped their enclosure by leaping over a moat and entered the main grounds of the zoo on Thursday morning before the park opened to the public.

After the zookeepers implemented an emergency lockdown, Majo was successfully corralled back into the enclosure, but Motshegetsi remained agitated and had to be shot, the zoo said.

“This is a very, very sad ending, which I really would not have wished for,” the zoo's director Joerg Junhold told reporters. “But we had no choice.”

“In this case personal safety had to take priority.”

Majo and Motshegetsi were both 15-months-old and had only been at the zoo for a month after being transferred from a zoo in the Swiss city of Basel. 

After their escape, the lions were discovered in a terrified state in undergrowth a short distance from their enclosure.

About 40 zookeepers then surrounded them with vehicles in an attempt to drive them back.

According to local media, Majo was returned to the enclosure after three hours, with staff reportedly using a fence to coral the animal, but Motshegetsi broke through the barrier and the keepers were forced to take action.

“After Majo was caught and Motshegetsi was hit with a tranquiliser dart, we were hopeful that the breakout could end without any loss of life,” Mr Junhold said.

But staff then decided they had lost control of the situation and shot the lion. 

“Human safety always comes first,” Mr Junhold said.

The enclosure had been in use at the zoo for 15 years and there had never previously been problems, Mr Junhold added.

Leipzig zoo has successfully bred over 2,000 lions in the past, and 250 rare Siberian tigers.

In March one tiger at the zoo killed another after a partition separating them was removed. 

The zoo is now planning a security review. 

The last time the Leipzig saw a big cat breakout was in October 1913, when six lions reportedly escaped a private menagerie in the east German city during a festival. The escapees sparked a city-wide hunt, ending with the killing of all six of the lions, which were then exhibited at Leipzig zoo, the Leipziger Volkszeitung reported.

The shooting follows international outcry after male silverback gorilla Harambe was shot dead by keepers at Cincinnati Zoo in May when a three year old boy fell into his enclosure and was roughly handled by the animal.