The chief of Whipsnade Zoo has said an ‘immediate threat to human life’ forced keepers to shoot dead two escaped brown bears amid backlash from animal lovers for not using tranquiliser darts instead.
The female bears, named Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, were euthanised by zookeepers after using a fallen tree to clamber into another enclosure, where they attacked a male boar.
Malcolm Fitzpatrick, the Bedfordshire zoo’s chief curator, told staff in a statement that it had been ‘an incredibly upsetting and difficult day’ but the decision was driven by ‘safety’ and a need to ‘protect our people, guests and our other animals.’
He added that the pair were not tranquilised because this can take ‘at least 20 minutes to work’.
It follows social media users criticising the zoo for its actions, with some calling for its closure and others questioning its preventative measures.
Two brown bears were shot and killed after escaping from an enclosure at Whipsnade Zoo yesterday (pictured: two European Brown bears in the pool in their enclosure at the zoo)
The female bears, named Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, were euthanised by zookeepers after using a fallen tree to clamber into another enclosure (European brown bears pictured during the annual weight-in at Whipsnade Zoo)
Sleeping Beauty, one of three European Brown Bear sisters, pictured relaxing in her custom-made bear hammock at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in April 2019
The zookeepers ‘agreed the only option was to euthanise the bears’, Mr Fitzpatrick said, adding: ‘When there’s an immediate threat to human life, the decision is made for you.’
As well as attacking other animals, there was an imminent danger of the two bears escaping over the low fence of the boar enclosure they had reached, the zoo said.
It is not know whether the zoo was open to the public at the time.
Mr Fitzpatrick also told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘Brown bears are strong and dangerous predators and, within minutes, our emergency response team were at the site of the incident and made the quick decision to euthanise the brown bears.’
He added: ‘The safety of our staff and our other animals in the zoo is paramount and a decision was made with that in mind.
‘It was a very sad decision for us to make and we are now making sure that our staff who dealt with the incident are being cared for, as is the remaining wild boar who has been injured.’
On whether tranquilising would have been an option, he said: ‘Unfortunately tranquilisers can take a long time to take effect, especially when adrenaline is coursing through these large and dangerous predators.
‘That means our staff and other animals at the zoo would have been at high risk. Therefore we had to make the decision to quickly proceed with the euthanasia.
Malcolm Fitzpatrick (pictured above), the Bedfordshire zoo’s chief curator, told staff in a statement that it had been ‘an incredibly upsetting and difficult day’
The Bedfordshire zoo’s chief curator added that the pair were not tranquilised because this can take ‘at least 20 minutes to work’
‘Within 18 minutes of the situation first being noticed, the situation was safe and contained.’
But some Twitter users condemned the action, with one writing: ‘ZSL Whipsnade Zoo decides to kill two bears, who had only got into an adjacent enclosure, instead of even attempting to tranquilise them.’
Another said: ‘Surely it was known to the architects of the zoo that strong wind can bring down trees and they took no preventative measures when designing them. Shame on them and shame on Whipsnade Zoo.’
And a third added: ‘Whipsnade Zoo ought to be closed down immediately.’
A third brown bear called Cinderella, who remained in her enclosure, was led to her indoor dens and secured, while the fallen tree was removed.
The zoo has come under fire from animal rights activists on social media for shooting the bears, but Mr Fitzpatrick deemed it necessary in the circumstances.
‘I expect some of you may read this and wonder why we didn’t use a tranquiliser to sedate the bears, and the short answer is that it simply wouldn’t have worked,’ he added, insisting their actions ‘prevented any further loss of life’.
The zookeepers’ decision was driven by ‘safety’ and a need to ‘protect our people, guests and our other animals’, said Mr Fitzpatrick (file photo)
The boar suffered injuries, but ultimately survived and was attended to by vets after the situation was declared safe.
Strong winds yesterday morning had originally felled the tree, forming a ‘bridge’ between the two enclosures.
Mr Fitzpatrick has also confirmed there will be a full investigation into the incident. He said: ‘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.’
It is rare for brown bears to attack humans on sight, with the species tending to avoid human contact.
There are less than 40 attacks worldwide annually, with the majority in Europe occurring in Romania.