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Wild animals go missing at a zoo, stirring fears
[FRANKFUR] Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
In a brief but dramatic episode, two lions, two tigers, a jaguar and a bear were reported missing from their enclosures in a zoo in western Germany on Friday, prompting an all-hands search by the police, the fire brigade and a team of veterinarians.
The drama grew by midmorning when the bear was discovered outside his enclosure in the zoo and shot dead.
Then a local broadcaster reported that some of the big cats might have slipped entirely out of the 74-acre compound of the Eifel Zoo in Lünebach, near the borders with Luxembourg and Belgium. Residents in surrounding areas were told to stay indoors until all the animals were accounted for.
In the end, a drone sighted the remaining animals in a corner of their own enclosure, where they were hiding after heavy overnight thunderstorms had caused severe flooding.
Danny Faymonville, the spokesman for the emergency response effort, said the animals had not been visible earlier because of heavy storm damage. Access had been so difficult and dangerous that a thorough search could not be conducted, he said.
A nearby stream had swelled to a roaring river, he said, and parts of the zoo were under several meters of water.
"Initially we had to assume the worst," Mr Faymonville said. Jaguars, he added, "are very good swimmers."
The bear, on the other hand, had gotten through a damaged fence and came face to face with an armed search party and was shot. It was "a case of self-defense," Mr Faymonville said, adding that the bear had charged the group and a tranquilizer was not at hand.
Residents were gripped by confusion and anxiety throughout the morning and into the afternoon, with the extreme weather adding a surreal element. Nearly as much rain fell in an hour as usually falls in a whole month. A train came off the tracks. Basements were flooded. Houses were evacuated. Campsites were swept away.
And the zoo was in the middle of it. Owned privately, the Eifel Zoo is home to nearly 400 animals of 60 species, including Siberian tigers and lions.
"2 Tigers. 2 Lions. 1 Jaguar. 1 shot bear. The Eifel is turning into a jungle," one tweet read.
"The animals forgot to take the monkeys and the penguins, otherwise they might still be free," read another, in a reference to the movie "Madagascar."
Zoo escapes, while not everyday events, have happened before in Germany. In 2016, two lions broke out of their enclosures at the Leipzig Zoo. One was shot. Four years earlier, five chimpanzees broke out of their enclosures at a zoo in Hanover, in northern Germany.
By Friday night, things were beginning to return to normal at the Eifel Zoo. "The animals are OK and calm," Mr Faymonville said.
The humans perhaps less so: Late into the night, they were still assessing storm damage.