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Zeus the Lion shot and killed after escaping from Papanack Zoo

By Tom Spears

A zoo owner shot and killed a male lion that had escaped from its enclosure at a small private zoo near Wendover Sunday afternoon.

A zoo owner shot and killed a male lion that had escaped from its enclosure at a small private zoo near Wendover Sunday afternoon.

There was no choice but to shoot and kill a 300-pound lion that escaped its enclosure at a zoo east of Ottawa, since tranquilizing the animal would have taken too long and put the public at risk, the zoo’s co-owner said Monday.

“Public safety is my main concern,” Papanack Park Zoo co-owner Kerri Bayford said of the difficult decision to euthanize Zeus, a five-year-old African white lion, on Sunday evening.

“There could be kids playing down the road. Do you think I’m going to take that risk?”

The lion escaped his enclosure at the zoo south of Wendover, east of Rockland, at about 4:20 p.m. Sunday.

Exactly how the lion escaped was still under investigation, although the OPP said they were told by the park’s owner that the animal escaped through a window that was covered with chain link fence.

In a Facebook post, Bayford speculated that, pending a staff meeting to pinpoint the exact cause, “human error” was likely at play.

But at no time during the hour that Zeus was outside his enclosure was the public at risk, added Bayford, whose husband, Doug, shot and killed the lion at about 5:20 p.m.

The zoo was closed for the winter, and, while staff were present, there were no members of the public visiting the zoo.

The decision to euthanize Zeus, meanwhile, was not taken lightly, Bayford added, but the potential danger to the public left them little choice. The option of using a tranquillizer gun ran the risk of the lion’s escaping before becoming fully sedated. With nightfall approaching, that wasn’t a chance they were willing to take.

“The risk to the public of trying to sedate the lion was simply too high, as the sedative takes too long too kick in, and this would have put everyone at risk,” Bayford posted to the zoo’s Facebook page.

Local animal rights activists are planning to stage a protest at the zoo's main entrance on Sunday, March 6 at 1 p.m.

Organizers posted an announcement to Facebook Monday announcing the "peaceful" protest, which they say aims to educate the public on "why zoos are no place for animals."

OPP Const. Mario Gratton said police arrived to find Zeus walking near the entrance of Papanack Park Zoo in an unfenced area, although Bayford said the incident took place away from the entrance, in back of the zoo.

Gratton said officers teamed with park staff to try to keep the lion from escaping and posing a risk to nearby residents.

“When they got at scene, the lion was walking around and if the officers tried to approach, from a distance, obviously, he would look at them and try to walk toward them,” said Gratton.

Gratton said the officers made a hasty retreat and watched the animal from a distance.

“In a way, they didn’t want to provoke it,” said Gratton. “The officers were told by the owners that this kind of animal is very aggressive. They are not friendly animals. It was posing a serious risk to everyone.”

Between the Bayfords, their family, park staff and Hawkesbury OPP, Kerri said, about 20 people were on hand Sunday evening. No people or other animals were harmed during the incident.

“We have an escape procedure plan in process, and it worked,” Bayford said. “It was controlled.

“There were eyes on him at all times, and we could see him at all times. There never was a public threat.”

Gratton said the officers lacked the firepower to take down such a large animal, and so the task fell to Doug Bayford, who used a large-calibre hunting rifle.

OPP officers carry rifles in their police cruisers, but they aren’t equipped to take down an animal as powerful as a lion, Gratton said.

“The one that we have obviously is powerful, but on animals it is not really the best rifle to use,” said Gratton. “A good shot could have injured it at the beginning, but injuries could have caused it to escape and be more frustrated, agitate the animal more than anything else.”

Gratton said police weren’t able to immediately notify the public about the loose lion because all available officers were tied up trying to contain the animal.

“It would have been nice to get an officer and knock at each door and say stay inside, but it was a matter having enough officers to secure the area and keep an eye on the animal so if it does escape they would be able to do something about it,” said Gratton.

Gratton said once the animal was shot dead, the risk to the public was gone, which is why police didn’t send a media release about the incident until hours later.

In the meantime, rumours began circulating that as many as four lions had escaped, which wasn’t true.

“It would have been totally different if the lion had escaped and we didn’t know where it was.” Said Gratton. “The threat was ceased. Everything was under control,”

Police would have done an immediate release to warn people to stay in their houses and not go out at all if police had lost sight of the lion, he said.

Bayford said Papanack acquired Zeus, along with a female lion, about a month ago.