Animal welfare minister criticises shooting of lion at Planckendael

Summary

A lion was shot to death yesterday at Planckendael animal park in Mechelen after she escaped from her enclosure, earning criticism from a government minister and animal rights group

Visitor safety ‘could no longer be guaranteed’

Flemish animal welfare minister Ben Weyts has delivered sharp criticism in response to Planckendael animal park’s decision to shoot a lion yesterday that had escaped from its enclosure. The female lion was roaming the park after it escaped at about 9.30 yesterday morning.

There were few visitors in the park, located in Mechelen, at the time as it doesn’t open to the general public until 10.00. Only annual pass holders can enter the park before that time.

Planckendael staff tried to use a tranquiliser gun to render the two-year-old lion, called Rani, unconscious. But two attempts didn’t work and so the police shot the lion dead.

“When the tranquiliser attempts didn’t work, the crisis team make the decision to neutralise the animal,” said Planckendael in a statement. “This is what the police advised because they were concerned about the safety of a few visitors who were in a train car near where the lion was roaming. Their safety could no longer be guaranteed.”

The train car is a decorative element in the park, and four adults had taken cover inside it. The other 11 visitors that were in the park at the time of the lion’s escape had been evacuated.

‘Cowboy mentality?’

Weyts, however, called the action “horrible and indefensible”. He has requested an investigation into the actions of the police.

“I get that it is difficult to weigh safety risks, but I do not understand why there were not more attempts made to tranquilise the animal,” said Weyts. “It was a decision by the police and the police alone. It goes without saying that the escape itself must be investigated, but to me it’s equally important to investigate the decision to kill the animal.”

Animal rights group Gaia agrees. “According to Planckendael, the visitors and staff were never in any danger, so there was no risk to human safety,” said Gaia director Michel Vandenbosch, “Were the police acting according to a cowboy mentality or does Planckendael really not have an emergency plan to ensure that an escaped animal doesn’t have to be killed?”

Photo: A recent photo of Rani
©Courtesy VRT

Planckendael

Together with Antwerp Zoo, Planckendael is one of Flanders’ two major animal parks. Located in Mechelen, the park was originally established as a refuge for tired and injured animals from the Antwerp Zoo.
History - In 1956, the Royal Society of Animals of Antwerp (KMDA) bought the Planckendael estate, which was built in 1780. The animal park opened four years later.
Expansion - As part of a new €5-million master plan, Planckendael recently introduced a new theme continent (America), updated several animal complexes and grounds and is welcoming entirely new species starting this year.
Sustainable - Every year since 2011, the park has been awarded the Green Key international eco-label for its sustainability efforts. It is one of only nine attractions in Flanders to carry the label.
42

surface area in hectares

810 000

annual visitors in 2012

33

Flemish government KMDA subsidy for 2012-2016 period in millions of euros