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A lion cub claws onto a big grey ball while two other cubs watch on
Photograph: Supplied/ Taronga Zoo

Watch the CCTV footage showing how the five lions managed to escape at Taronga Zoo

Everything you need to know about Sydney's feline fiasco

Maya Skidmore
Written by
Maya Skidmore
When Sydneysiders woke up on Wednesday, November 2 they were greeted with one of the wildest local news stories seen in a long time. Over at Mosman’s Taronga Zoo, four lion cubs and one male lion had escaped from their enclosure and were seen walking around outside the six-foot high steel walls of their main exhibit. 

This great escape triggered a 'code one' response from the zoo, forcing all Roar and Snore guests who were sleeping nearby in tents to run for safety, after which they were
locked down in an adjacent bathroom block for 90 minutes. The alarm was triggered at 6.30am, with police arriving on the scene at 7.10am. Ultimately, the renegade lions were all safely returned to their enclosure by 9am, with Taronga Zoo staff reporting that four of the lions “calmly” headed back to their exhibit, however one cub had to be “safely tranquillised”. 

The sheer drama of this whole situation hasn’t been lost on anyone, with apex predator breakouts having resulted in far less happy outcomes elsewhere, such as the case of an escaped lion killing a young intern in a North Carolina zoo, and another, earlier this year, where an escaped lioness and her mate attacked and killed their keeper in Iran after escaping from their enclosure. 

Thankfully, Sydney’s lions didn’t cause such a stir, with neither the lions nor surrounding humans getting injured in any kind of way. However, the question remains: how did the lions get out in the first place? 

Since the news broke, it has been revealed by Taronga Zoo that the lions were able to escape due to a lack of integrity in the main containment fence, which enabled all five lions to make their way outside. The zoo has said that the fence is made of extremely durable steel wire rope that is used in zoos all across the world, with the lions' fence designed to resist the force of a charging animal. While no issues were reported during the keeper’s daily perimeter checks the day before, it has been reported by that a certain portion of the fence and “digging marks” were at the centre of police investigations upon arrival on the scene. 

In CCTV footage that has just been released by Taronga Zoo, it has been revealed that the five lions played and interacted with the fence before the first cub was able to squeeze through. After one cub went through the fence, three more followed, with dad Ato bringing up the rear in the great escape.

After leaving their enclosure, the five lions hung around the periphery of the fence, calmly investigating the outside world while Maya, lioness and mum, called out for them. Taronga has said that dad Ato and three of the cubs tried to re-enter their exhibit on their own, but were unable to do so.

However, when looking at the CCTV, we see that once it was discovered by the zoo's human residents that the lions had left the building, you can see the sudden and harried arrival of armed zoo guards. What followed was something that most of us are used to seeing only in Hollywood action movies. You can see a tense exchange, where a crowd of armed guards from Taronga's emergency response unit tranquillise one of the lion cubs, after which a crowd of personnel carry her away and pack her into the van. It is reported that dad Ato (after being encouraged by his keepers) went back to his enclosure on his own terms.

The naughty lions have been put out of public view in an outdoor, back-of-house habitat while Taronga awaits pending specialist engineer findings into the fence failure. Despite it all, we still want to go and say hi to those renegade lion cubs. They are pretty cute, after all. 

Can't see the lions? Do the next best thing at Taronga and see this lyrebird whose been imitating the "evacuate now" alarm since the lions escaped. 

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