An ‘integrity issue’ with a containment fence allowed five lions to escape their enclosure, forcing dozens of terrified zoo guests staying overnight to flee their accommodation.
Sydney’s Taronga Zoo went into lockdown early Wednesday morning after male lion Ato and cubs Khari, Luzuko, Malike and Zuri escaped their enclosure, sparking an emergency response.
The lions were found and safely returned to their enclosure before the zoo opened to the public for the day.
A portion of fence and ‘digging marks’ in the lions’ Savannah enclosure are now at the centre of an investigation launched by Taronga Zoo.
The lions have been blocked off from the area where they made their brazen escape.
‘The lions are now in a back-of-house holding area while a full review continues,’ a zoo statement read on Monday night.
Taronga Zoo staff and police inspect an ‘integrity’ issue with a fence which allowed five lions to escape their enclosure on Wednesday morning
‘A full report will now be prepared for the NSW Department of Primary Industries.
‘Keepers and vets report all lions are doing well.’
Roar and Snore guests were locked inside (above) for 90 minutes this morning after being told to flee their tents and leave belongings behind when the five lions escaped after breaching a containment fence
One lion cub had to be tranquilised by vets while the other escapees were returned to their enclosure without issue.
Magnus and Dominique Perri and their young sons Lucas and Oliver were staying in Taronga’s Roar and Snore tents when they were woken by the sound of lions roaring and grumbling at about 4am on Wednesday.
With the sounds of the animals promoted as a key part of the experience, Mr Perri said the family quickly went back to sleep, believing the lions were safely locked in their enclosure just metres away.
‘It just happened so quickly,’ Mr Perri said.
Sydney couple Magnus and Dominique Perri and their young sons Lucas and Oliver (above) were staying in Taronga’s Roar and Snore when they were told they had 30 seconds to ‘get out’ after a lion escape
‘They said ‘Hurry up! Don’t worry about your things. This is a Code One. Get out of your tent. Leave your belongings behind. You have 30 seconds to get out’.’
‘People were running out.’
Mr Perri said the family were escorted out along with about 50 other Roar and Snore overnighters to a safe place for the next 90 minutes.
He also said he heard zookeepers yelling ‘they’re still outside still’ until four of the lions returned to the enclosure, and a tranquilizer gun was used to recapture the one that did not.
Speaking to the media on Wednesday morning, Taronga Zoo executive director Simon Duffy confirmed an adult lion and four cubs had escaped at 6.30am.
‘The lions were observed in a small area adjacent to the main lion exhibit where a six-foot fence separated them from the rest of the zoo,’ the zookeeper said.
The five escape lions triggered a Code One alarm but were back in their enclosure a few hours later (pictured, Taronga lions)
‘The zoo has very strict safety protocols in place for such an incident and immediate action was taken … Four of the lions calmly made their way back into their main exhibit and dens and one lion cub was safely tranquillised.
‘All animals are now safe in their back-of-house exhibit and are being closely monitored.’
He added that video footage showed the incident was under control within 10 minutes at 6.50am.
‘This is a significant incident and a full review is now underway to confirm exactly how the lions were able to exhibit their main exhibit,’ he said.
The Code One alarm is reserved for when a ‘dangerous animal’ has escaped or is causing an alarming situation and orders staff to immediately lockdown in a ‘safe haven’.
Four lions escaped their enclosure at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo (pictured, police seen at the fence near the lion viewing area)
Taronga Zoo said in a statement it would operate as normal today but the lions will not be on display.
NSW Police officers attended the scene but confirmed the zoo was ‘managing the situation on its own’.
Visitors from Gloucestershire, UK, Kirsty, Stuart and Isabelle McLaren arrived at Taronga after it had reopened at 9.30am and said they had the all clear to roam the entire zoo.
‘We’re just here to see the koalas,’ Kirsty said.
The lions escaped their enclosure – not far from the zoo’s ferry terminal – before the tourist attraction opened its gates for the day, meaning only workers were present.
The chimpanzees, giraffes and zebras exhibits are also just metres away from the lion enclosure.
TIMELINE OF THE TARONGA ZOO LION ESCAPE
4am: A family staying in the Roar and Snore tents near the lion enclosure are woken by ‘roaring’.
6.30am: Lions escape their enclosure.
6.40am: The Code One lockdown alarm sounds in the zoo and all staff, apart from lionkeepers, are ordered to hide in ‘safe havens’. Roar and Snore guests, about 50, are evacuated from their tents and moved to a safe area.
6.50am: Zookeepers control the situation and move the five lions back to their enclosure.
8am: Roar and Snore guests are allowed back into their rooms.
8.28am: 2GB Sydney radio host Ben Fordham breaks the news Taronga Zoo is in lockdown after the escape of four lions.
8.52am: Taronga Zoo releases a statement confirming the incident which states five lions escaped but are back in their enclosures.
It said: ‘An emergency situation occurred this morning at Taronga Zoo when five lions were located outside of their enclosure.
‘The zoo has strict safety protocols in place for such an incident. All persons onsite were moved to safe zones and there are no injuries to guests or staff.
‘All animals are now in their exhibit and are being closely monitored by zoo staff. The zoo will open as normal today. Further details will be provided when possible.’
10.30am: Zoo officials confirm the escape was caused by a breach in the Savannah enclosure fence.