Ben Weyts, Flanders region’s minister for animal welfare, has called for an enquiry into the death of a lioness at Planckendael animal park on Thursday, after she had escaped from the lions’ enclosure. The park reported that two attempts to tranquillise the animal had failed, making it unavoidable for her to be shot dead to protect park visitors as she approached them. “Safety is the most important concern,” said safety director Peter Van den Eynde. “I had to take the most difficult decision of my life.”
Lioness Rani escaped from the lions’ enclosure before the park’s official opening, when only season-ticket holders are allowed priority entry. There were therefore few visitors on the ground at that time. When the alarm was raised, most were ushered indoors to safety.
Rani herself seemed to remain around the enclosure of the Visayan Warty pigs, for obvious reasons. That gave the security staff and police the time to assemble and consider their options.
While most of the visitors were gathered in a park restaurant, four people took refuge in an old train carriage which forms part of the décor of the park, which is open to the outside. When Rani had left the pigs behind, she approached the train carriage, and the decision was taken to shoot her. Two attempts to hit her with a tranquilliser dart had failed to have any effect.
A firearms expert explained, a tranquilliser dart to be useful has to be shot at a low velocity, and therefore from a limited range. An animal who has been shot becomes dangerous, in particular on a second attempt. For the protection of humans, if the distance has to be increased, so does the velocity of the projectile, which makes a dart useless. The only option at that point is a deadly bullet.
Minister Weyts, whose office covers the park in Mechelen, said the decision to shoot Rani was “awful and incomprehensible”.
“I understand there’s a difficult weighing of risk factors, but I cannot understand why more attempts were not made to tranquillise this animal,” he told Belga. “This was a decision made by the police and the police alone, to kill the animal. From my point of view, it’s clear that not only must the escape be investigated, but also the decision to kill the animal.”