When zoo director Jörg Junhold appeared at midday on Thursday to make a statement on the break out of two lions, everything seemed to be under control.
Keepers had forced one of the animals back into the enclosure using a fence. The other had been shot with a sedative.
But then Junhold was called out of the room. When he returned shortly afterwards, his face said it all.
The second lion had been shot dead, he announced.
“This is a very, very sad outcome, which I was really hoping we would avoid,” he said.
Majo and Motshegetsi had broken out of their enclosures on Thursday morning. As of Thursday afternoon, it remained unclear how the two big cats – both one and a half years old – managed to do so.
“It took us all by surprise. The lion enclosure is well tested – it has been in use for 15 years. Of course we assumed that it was secure,” said Junhold.
The zoo remained closed on Thursday afternoon as emergency procedures were put in place.
The zoo director insisted though, that at no point had visitors been in danger.
The lions escaped from their enclosures at 8.40 am, before the zoo had been opened to the public.
Zoo keepers and other employees were also safe, he claimed, adding that after they escaped, the two lions retreated in fear to a bushy area near their enclosure where they were trapped by fences and vehicles.
The zoo on Thursday could not say which of the two young lions was killed, nor why the situation escalated in the way it did.
The lion was reportedly shot with a sedative. But when that failed to work, keepers decided to kill the animal.
“In these situations human safety comes first,” said Junhold.
This is the first time that predators have broken out of their enclosure at Leipzig Zoo.
But in Baruth, just south of Berlin, two lions broke out of their enclosure at an animal park in July. The park said that human error was at fault on that occasion. Fortunately, neither animal was killed: one returned of its own accord to its enclosure, while the other was successfully sedated.
The sadness of the story at Leipzig Zoo is made more acute by the fact that Majo and Motshegetsi had only been there for a month, having arrived in August.
The zoo says it will now re-evaluate security at its “savanna enclosure.”