Two brown bears have been shot and killed after escaping from a zoo enclosure.
Whipsnade Zoo in Dunstable said the animals were euthanised by zookeepers on Friday, after using a fallen tree to get into a neighbouring enclosure.
The zoo’s chief curator, Malcolm Fitzpatrick, said the two female bears, named Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, had attacked a male boar.
He said it had been “an incredibly upsetting and difficult day”.
“As brown bears are strong and dangerous predators, our first priority is safety,” he said.
“We must quickly make decisions informed by our experience and expertise to protect our people, guests and our other animals.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said zookeepers “agreed the only option was to euthanise the bears,” adding: “When there’s an immediate threat to human life, the decision is made for you.”
He said tranquilisers could not be used, as they would have taken 20 minutes to take effect, “during which time the animals can become unpredictable and aggressive as adrenaline is coursing through them”.
The boar enclosure has a low fence, which the bears could have escaped over, something the zoo called “a risk we couldn’t take”.
A third brown bear called Cinderella, which had not left her enclosure, was called to an indoor den and secured. The fallen tree was then removed.
Mr Fitzpatrick said there would be a full investigation into the incident.
He added: “This situation is something we train to deal with through regular, rigorous drills – but one that we always hope we’ll never have to face.
“I’m devastated by the outcome of this morning’s incident, but I’m confident that our actions prevented any further loss of life.”
The boar was treated by a vet and remains under observation.