A lion was shot dead after it escaped its enclosure at the Papanack Zoo east of Ottawa Sunday afternoon, apparently because of human error.

Ontario Provincial Police were called to the zoo in the community of Wendover, a 45-minute drive northeast of downtown Ottawa, at about 4:20 p.m. ET.

African white lion male

An adult male African white lion (not the animal seen above) was killed on Sunday after it escaped its enclosure. (The Associated Press)

An adult male African white lion had escaped and was walking in the unfenced park entrance area, OPP said in a release.

The zoo is closed to the public for the winter season, but staff were there.

Officers helped zoo staff contain the animal, but it was shot with a rifle by the zoo owner shortly before 5:30 p.m., OPP said.

"We always have to think of public safety and that's the the OPP's primary concern… We want to make sure that we were able to contain the animal in that area to minimize the risks of any potential injuries or attacks towards the public," said Hawkesbury OPP Const. Mario Gratton in an interview.

"The risk to the public of trying to sedate the lion was simply too high, as the sedative takes too long too kick in, and this would have put everyone at risk," zoo spokesperson Kerri Bayford wrote in a statement posted on the zoo's Facebook page early Monday morning.

No people or other animals were injured.

Neighbours content

An investigation is underway, Bayford wrote, adding that the lion's escape appears to have been caused by human error.

Papanack Zoo lion sign slow winter snow lion killed shot Feb 29 2016

No one was injured and no other animals were injured when the lion escaped and had to be put down, police say. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

"Since taking over ownership at Papanack Zoo just under two years ago, we have worked tirelessly to improve the facility and living conditions of the animals," Bayford wrote. "Unfortunately, it looks like this was a case of human error, and we are going to be debriefing with all our staff to determine exactly what happened."

Former employees and national charity Zoocheck Canada had raised concerns about conditions under the zoo's former owners.

People who live near the zoo told CBC News Monday the new ownership was better and they don't have lingering safety concerns after what happened Sunday.

"It could happen with any animal that could get loose but since they've been there they've done a good job. They're fixing everything," said Sylvie Jubainville.

"I'm very surprised, there never seems to be any problem with the zoo," said Elaine Thomson.

Thomson and a 2010 Zoocheck Canada report both mention a tiger that escaped from its enclosure at the zoo in 2005, but was tranquilized and returned without incident.


Full zoo statement

It is with great regret that I have to announce that today at approximately 5:19 p.m. our male lion breached its primary perimeter fence. Police were called immediately and within minutes our staff, with police present, made the decision to euthanize the lion on our property. 

The risk to the public of trying to sedate the lion was simply too high as the sedative takes too long to kick in and this would have put everyone at risk. Our zoo is closed to the public during the winter and there were no public on the grounds.

Since taking over ownership at Papanack Zoo just under two years ago we have worked tirelessly to improve the facility and living conditions of the animals. Unfortunately it looks like this was a case of human error and we are going to be debriefing with all our staff to determine exactly what happened.

Furthermore, we have started doing a full audit of all of our large carnivore exhibits. We have already been reaching out to other experts in the field to go over our current policies and protocols and exhibit designs to ensure that an incident such as this will not happen again.

Once debriefing with all our staff we will be making a full statement as to what happened to lead to this tragic event today. Our staff couldn't be more upset about this and I would greatly appreciate if all concerns are directed to myself personally, Kerri Bayford. I look forward to shedding more light on the sad events of today.

Sincerely,
Kerri Bayford