Just after 10 p.m. local time (5 p.m. ET) on Saturday, Ladispoli mayor Alessandro Grando announced on his Facebook page that the lion had been caught.
The animal had been on the loose for at least 5 hours, causing concern and confusion among local residents.
“The lion has been sedated and captured. It will now be handed over by the circus staff. I thank the State Police, the Carabinieri, the Fire Department, the local and provincial police, the Asl [Local Health Authority], and all the volunteers who served during these hours of great apprehension,” Grando said on social media on Saturday evening.
“I hope that this episode will stir some consciences, and that we can finally put an end to the exploitation of animals in circuses,” he added.
Circus staff found broken lock
Earlier on Saturday, Grando alerted local residents immediately after the animal’s escape, urging people to stay vigilant and advising them to stay at home.
It was around 5 p.m. local time (11 a.m. ET) when it was announced the lion had escaped from the circus and that the animal was immediately tracked down within the adjacent waterway.
“Circus personnel are implementing the capture operations, with the support of Law Enforcement who promptly responded to the scene. Please exercise caution and avoid movement until further notice,” the mayor said.
But the lion managed to disappear again in a very dense reedbed and reappeared in town. The lion ran away again after spotting the police car, Grando told Italian national broadcaster RAI.
When asked how the animal managed to escape from the circus, the mayor said a member of the circus’ staff saw three people running away and that they found a broken lock at the circus.
“They are talking about sabotage,” Grando said, adding that the incident will now be investigated.
After escaping, the lion wandered around the streets of Ladispoli, a seaside town some 50km from Rome, and was filmed by many people from their homes or cars. Several videos on social media show the lion wandering around among parked cars and in front of the gates of houses.
In order to catch the lion, veterinarians used a dart equipped with a geolocator, thanks to which the animal was eventually found and surrounded near a school, RAI reported.
According to those at the scene, the lion was in good condition, although frightened and in a state of mild hypothermia, RAI also reported.
The Carabinieri are investigating the incident.
The Organization for the Protection of Animals (OIPA) said Saturday that this story “highlights the danger of circuses with animals from the point of view of public safety and, above all, the discomfort of poor creatures forced into captivity to be used for entertainment purposes,” adding that it hopes that a law banning circuses with animals will be introduced.