'Upsetting' day at Whipsnade Zoo as escaped brown bears euthanised to protect public

Brown bears at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Brown bears at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo - Credit: Tony Margiocchi

ZSL Whipsnade Zoo has released a statement after being forced to euthanise two of its brown bears which escaped from their enclosure.

Due to strong winds earlier today, a tree fell and formed a 'bridge' between the fence of the brown bear enclosure and the neighbouring wild boar enclosure, allowing two female brown bears to escape.

The bears crossed into the boar enclosure, where they attacked a male boar. A third brown bear did not leave her enclosure, and was able to be safely secured by zookeepers.

Chief curator Malcolm Fitzpatrick said: "One of our zookeepers spotted the breach, and immediately implemented our emergency procedures and protocols.

"As brown bears are strong and dangerous predators, our first priority is safety – we must quickly make decisions informed by our experience and expertise to protect our people, guests and our other animals. 

"Our experienced zookeepers, who were on the scene within minutes, promptly assessed the situation and agreed the only option was to euthanise the bears.

"No one wants to be the one to make that call, but when there’s an immediate threat to human life, the decision is made for you. The colleagues involved today have experienced the dreadful situation that every vet and keeper thoroughly trains for, but hopes will never come to pass.

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"I ask you to support them in the coming weeks as they come to terms with the day's events."

Mr Fitzpatrick explained that the keepers were not able to tranquilise the bears, as tranquilisers can take up to 20 minutes to work and the bears would have become unpredictable and aggressive during that time. They had to intervene immediately to prevent the bears escaping from the boar enclosure, which has a low fence.

Once the situation was safe, vets were able to examine the injured boar and the fallen tree was removed.

Describing it as an "incredibly upsetting and difficult day for ZSL Whipsnade Zoo", Mr Fitzpatrick added: "As zookeepers and animal carers, this situation is something we train to deal with through regular, rigorous drills – but one that we always hope we’ll never have to face.

"I’m devastated by the outcome of this morning’s incident, but I’m confident that our actions prevented any further loss of life.   

"We will of course be conducting a full investigation into this incident, so we can do everything in our power to ensure nothing like this happens again. For now, my priority is looking after the people involved, and the welfare of our affected animals.  

"You will know the close relationship our keepers have to the animals they look after, and therefore the impact of today’s events on them.

"I know that all colleagues at Whipsnade and across ZSL will extend their sympathies to the team for this shared loss."

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