Panicked staff shot dead an eight-year-old snow leopard which escaped from an enclosure at a West Midlands zoo, on the same day as an international celebration for the breed of big cat.
Keepers at Dudley Zoo failed to persuade the animal, called Margaash, to return to his caged pen, as he approached nearby woodland and as light faded.
The incident, which occurred on 23 October – also International Snow Leopard Day – was confirmed by the zoo on Friday.
Director Derek Grove described the shooting as “an incredibly sad incident” which had left staff “understandably heartbroken”.
“Euthanasia is, and always will be, a last resort,” Grove added.
“Efforts to persuade Margaash to return to his enclosure failed and as the animal was close to surrounding woodland and dark was approaching, the vet did not believe a tranquiliser dart was a safe option due to the amount of time the drug takes to work.”
The shooting took place after the zoo had closed to visitors.
“Safety of the public is always of paramount importance and our staff are highly experienced and rigorously trained,” Grove said.
The Snow Leopard Trust said Margaash’s killing was a “great loss to the entire zoo snow leopard community”.
“As fellow animal lovers, our thoughts are of course with the Margaash, the snow leopard that was tragically killed - but also with the staff and volunteers of Dudley Zoo, who must be in shock and grief,” the charity’s Matt Fiechter told HuffPost UK.
The life expectancy of a snow leopard in captivity is 21 years. Margaash was born at Banham Zoo in Norfolk in May 2010 and arrived at Dudley in September 2011, where he lived with three-year-old female Taïga, the zoo said.
A full internal investigation at the zoo has taken place, but the conclusion has not been confirmed.