Three wolves shot dead after escaping from one of Britain's biggest zoos

Three timber wolves, similar to this one, were killed after they escaped from a British zoo on Tuesday. Jean-christophe Verhaegen / AFP - Getty Images, file

LONDON -- Three wolves were shot dead after escaping rom a zoo on the outskirts of a British town on Tuesday.

Officials insisted they had no choice but to kill the “wild” creatures and said members of the public were at risk after the canines escaped through a damaged fence at Colchester Zoo at around 8 a.m. local time (3 a.m. ET).

A police helicopter helped dozens of officers and armed zookeepers search the area around the zoo, which is situated about 30 miles north of London.

“One of the wolves returned of its own accord and another was darted and recaptured,” the zoo said in a statement. “Two wolves that had left the perimeter of the zoo had to be shot.”

The third wolf was located and shot after almost eight hours on the run.

“They are wild animals and in an unpredictable situation they would have posed a risk to the public,” the zoo statement added. It said zookeepers were “devastated by the loss.”

An investigation has been launched into how the animals managed to escape.