Escaped circus lioness shot dead by Chinese police ‘after failing to find tranquiliser gun in time’
Animal killed while roaming only 300 metres from a service station crowded with customers in city of Suzhou after escaping from cage while being transported by van
Chinese police shot dead an escaped circus lioness on Monday night after firing at least 20 shots when it was spotted roaming close to a petrol station packed with customers, mainland media reports.
Suzhou city police said they were forced to kill the animal because it was a danger to the public and they would not have been able to find a tranquiliser gun quickly enough, Anhui News reported on Wednesday.
A frightened truck driver, identified only by his surname, Zhou, alerted police after his vehicle struck the animal when it ran out in front of him as he was driving to the service station at 10pm on Monday in Suzhou, in Anhui province.
He stayed inside the truck and rang emergency services after watching the lioness stand up and limp away.
Highway police arrived to find the lioness walking along the highway only 500 metres from the service station, which was packed with people eating and filling up their vehicles with petrol.
They immediately evacuated people from the station, while several others locked themselves inside the building, Anhui News said.
Police blocked off all the roads leading to the area and cornered the animal as it came to within 300 metres of the service station.
Initially they fired several shots at the lioness, and surveillance footage reportedly shows the lioness trying to stand up after being hit.
Police then fired at least 20 shots to ensure that it had been killed.
“We fired so many shots because we needed to be sure that it was dead,” one police officer was quoted as saying by the newspaper.
“If it had not been killed then it could easily have hurt other people.”
Police said they chose to shoot dead the lioness because of safety fears after they realised they would be unable to obtain a tranquiliser gun quickly.
The closest zoos were several hours away by car and the animal was already close to the service station and nearby residential areas.
“The consequences would be unthinkable if the lioness had not been found in time, and if it had run into the service station near the highway, or neighbouring villages,” the police officer said.
A spokesman for the Yongqiao district circus association in Suzhou – which is home to 400 circus groups that perform using lions and tigers around the country – told Anhui News that the lioness probably had belonged to one of its circus troupes.
The deputy chief of Hefei’s wildlife zoo said the lioness had probably escaped from a cage while being transported in a van after the door was not properly closed.
However, another report on Sina news portal said the lioness had been on heat and escaped from the van after forcing its way through two layers of barbed wire.