updated 3/18/2009 3:53:27 AM ET 2009-03-18T07:53:27

A lioness was fatally shot after breaking out of its enclosure at an Australian zoo and forcing visitors to hide in nearby buildings, a zoo official said Wednesday.

The 9-year-old lioness was shot on Tuesday by an employee of Mogo Zoo in Mogo, about 190 miles (300 kilometers) south of Sydney, the zoo's business manager John Appleby said.

The lion, named Jameila, never reached a public area, but officials were concerned the animal might and decided to shoot it, Appleby said.

"She was moving quite slowly towards a public area, but under the circumstances a decision was made to put her down," he said. "Because it was a lion, it was considered a dangerous animal, and protocol is if there is any potential risk to the public a decision would be made."

Zoo officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment on how the animal escaped its enclosure.

About 30 people were visiting the zoo when the lion broke loose. After being alerted by zoo officials about the escape, visitors hid in buildings throughout the grounds until the animal was killed, Appleby said.

"I wouldn't say there was any panic — I think it was all very controlled," he said.

Staff members were devastated by the death of the cat, which was born at the zoo.

"It's an absolute loss," Appleby said. "The team are still quite upset."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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