It was around 9pm on Monday evening when as yet unknown people snuck onto the land that Kaiser Circus – along with its 80 animals – was encamped on..
Finding a trailer where the ostriches Nala and Zawo were held along with a goose called Fred, the culprits managed to unscrew the hinges and open the door.
The animals then escaped and ran out into the night, according to local police.
But, at least for Nala, new-found freedom was to have fatal consequences.
Running through the streets in the southwestern area of the city, she was hit by a car and died. The driver drove off and has still not been identified.
The other two birds were later captured, although Zawo might have to be put down, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, because German regulations on animal husbandry state that ostriches must be kept in pairs.
Police believe that three men and one woman were behind the incident.
“It’s really affected me, I live with my animals,” the circus director André Kaiser told Süddeutsche Zeitung.
Kaiser, whose family have run the circus for more than 200 years, said that he had been tending to his camels and had not noticed the break-in.
The attack seems to have been the culmination of a barrage of intimidation which animal rights activists have hurled at the circus in recent weeks.
When the circus moved to the northwest of Munich, activists smeared almost all the posters advertising the event with slogans like “Animal torturers. Free all animals”.
Vandals also reportedly smashed the window of Kaiser's office, the donkeys were freed from their enclosure, and Kaiser himself was attacked.
“When I wanted to go and have a look after hearing the dogs barking, I was attacked from behind and hit over the head,” he said.
On another occasion, employees of the circus were followed by three men and a woman, all of whom were wearing bomber jackets with the logos of animal rights group Peta.
For now, an increased police presence at the circus is intended to put animal rights activists off considering any more acts of vigilantism.