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Five lions escape enclosure, sparking alarm at Sydney zoo

Guests of the zoo’s Roar and Snore overnight stay program were quickly rushed to safety.

Five lions managed to escape their enclosure at an Australian zoo Wednesday, sparking a brief emergency as officials rushed to contain them.

The zoo was immediately put in lockdown with a "code one" alert — a response involving a dangerous animal. Guests of the zoo’s overnight stay Roar and Snore program were also quickly rushed to safety.

The lions — four cubs and a male adult named Ato — slipped loose from the enclosure at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo due to “an integrity issue with a containment fence,” the zoo said in a statement early Wednesday.

“The lions were observed in a small area adjacent to the main lion exhibit, where a six-foot fence separated them from the rest of the zoo,” Simon Duffy, Taronga Zoo’s director, told a news conference. The lions did not exit the zoo or the “adjacent” fenced area at any point of time, he said, according to Reuters.

Four out of the five lions made their own way back into their dens at the main exhibit while one lion cub was safely tranquillized by staff at the zoo, officials said. All of the animals are now safe and being closely monitored in a back-of-house holding area, they added.  

“All zoo staff responded and acted swiftly, and procedures and processes were followed as they should have been. As a result, the situation was under control within minutes,” said Duffy. 

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Lion cubs at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney on Aug. 12.Saeed Khan / AFP via Getty Images

Video showed that emergency response to contain the lions was enacted within 10 minutes of the escape.

“They came running down the tent area, saying that ‘it’s a code one, get out of your tent, leave your belongings behind, run, and come with us’,” Magnus Perri, a visitor who was camping overnight with the zoo’s “Roar and Snore” program told local media, according to Reuters.

All guests at the zoo were moved to a designated safe zone until the lions were safely back in their enclosure. “It just happened so quickly, we were a bit surprised. I think everyone thought it was like a drill,” Perri added.

No animals or humans were injured in the lions’ short escape and the zoo later opened as normal, officials said.

The zoo said a full review of the incident would later confirm exactly how the lions were able to exit their main exhibit, which will remain closed for inspection until it is completely safe for guests to visit again.