Five lions – four cubs and an adult – briefly escaped from their enclosure at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, prompting authorities to take overnight guests to safe areas and initiate an investigation into the “significant” security breach.
Zoo authorities found, through video footage, that one of the adult lions named Ato and four cubs were outside their enclosure on Wednesday around 6:30 am local time.
They immediately issued a “code one” alert, the most serious on the zoo’s emergency alert list. Other warnings are the red code for fire, the orange code for an evacuation and the blue code for medical emergencies.
The five lions were, however, separated from the rest of the zoo by a six-foot fence, authorities said.
Police were called at 7am, but two hours later, authorities said the lions had returned to their enclosure.
A cub was reassured by zoo officials.
The zoo is investigating how the five lions escaped from their enclosures and its authorities have called the security breach a “significant” incident.
There were no reports of injuries or casualties for the animals, zoo staff and campers.
“The zoo has very strict safety protocols in place for such an incident and immediate action has been taken,” said Simon Duffy, executive director of Taronga Zoo.
The Taronga Zoo’s lion enclosure is home to Ato and Maya and their five cubs: Khari and Luzuko who are male and Malika, Zuri and Ayanna who are female. Maya and Ayanna were in the compound while the others were free, reports say.
Magnus Perri and his family of four were spending the night in a tent as part of the zoo’s “Roar and Snore” package when a coercion alarm went off, ABC News reported. Zookeepers soon rushed them to a bathroom block.
Mr. Perri recalled being surprised by the zoo staff. “They came running down the tent area saying there is code one, get out of your tent, leave your stuff behind,” he said.
“They opened the door, everyone went in, they counted us, they locked the door and we were inside the building.”
He remained unaware of what had happened. “The guides had their radios on, we listened to them and they said, ‘I’m still out’, so we know there’s something out there, and they said it’s the lions, so we’re like, ‘oh scared’,” He said.
Meanwhile, the zoo’s executive director, Mr. Duffy, said the lions breached one of the two containment fences inside the enclosure. He also announced that in addition to investigating how the lions escaped their enclosure, the lion exhibit will be closed until staff “make sure it’s 100 percent safe.”
“Now all the animals are safe in their back exhibit and are being monitored closely. I would like to remind everyone that Taronga Zoo itself has its own security perimeter fence. So in no time did the lions come out of that area or out of the Taronga Zoo, ”she said.
The zoo will be open as normal today, Duffy said, adding that more details will be shared when possible. Local media then reported that dozens of school groups and members of the public entered the zoo later on Wednesday morning as usual.
NSW Police Commissioner Karen Webb said, “It doesn’t happen very often that we get requests for lions on the loose, but no doubt the police are called in for all sorts of things and the zoo obviously thought of calling us and we answered.”
The commissioner added that zoo officials handled the matter without police assistance.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the last time a “code one” emergency was sounded at Taronga Zoo was when a chimpanzee escaped its enclosure in 2021.
In 2009, a lioness named Jamelia at Mogo Zoo on the south coast of NSW was released due to a “zookeeper mistake”.