Two brown bears have been shot dead at Whipsnade Zoo after escaping their enclosure and attacking a wild boar.
The animals were able to climb out after a tree was blown over in strong winds, attacking a wild boar in a neighbouring section.
Zoo bosses said staff had no choice but to euthanise the animals as they posed a danger to the public.
One of the zookeepers spotted the breach, and immediately implemented our emergency procedures and protocols.
Chief curator Malcolm Fitzpatrick said it was an “incredibly upsetting and difficult day”.
In an email to staff he said: “As brown bears are strong and dangerous predators, our first priority is safety – we must quickly make decisions informed by our experience and expertise to protect our people, guests and our other animals.”
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“No one wants to be the one to make that call, but when there’s an immediate threat to human life, the decision is made for you.”
He said tranquilising the bears was not an option, as these take 20 minutes to work and animals can become “unpredictable and aggressive as adrenaline is coursing through them”.
“That’s a risk we couldn’t take,” he said.
“We had to intervene immediately to ensure the bears didn’t get out of the boar enclosure, which has a low fence.”
Thankfully one bear in the enclosure did not escape and was unharmed. It was called to an indoor den and secured.
The fallen tree was then removed.
The Zoological Society of London, which runs the Bedfordshire zoo, said a full investigation will be carried out to prevent any similar instances in the future.
Mr Fitzpatrick added: “This situation is something we train to deal with through regular, rigorous drills – but one that we always hope we’ll never have to face.
“I’m devastated by the outcome of this morning’s incident, but I’m confident that our actions prevented any further loss of life.”