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There are better places to be during a major earthquake than surrounded by a bunch of lions.

So it’s probably a good idea that Tama Zoo in Hino, western Tokyo, conducted a drill Monday based on a scenario that a magnitude 6 quake had forced a bus carrying 17 visitors off course in its Lion Park.

To make matters worse, the scenario designers also gave the bus engine trouble.

The zoo exhibits 25 lions in conditions close to their natural habitat. Visitors ride in a specially reinforced “lion bus” to see the animals up close as they run loose in the 1-hectare wildlife park.

About 40 zoo keepers, rescuers and medics took part in the evacuation and rescue operation, under the watchful eye of a number of visitors.

The disabled bus was pulled to a safer place by another bus that came to its rescue. There, the passengers were transferred to the rescue bus.

After the passengers were evacuated, the lions were herded through the use of a jeep and a water cannon into their concrete housing structure.

The last one resisting the move — actually a zoo employee wearing a lion suit — was shot with a tranquilizer gun, captured and sent to the structure.

Tadao Sahoda of the zoo’s general affairs section said visitors’ safety is ensured once the lions are confined.

The zoo uses the same type of animal houses that survived the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, Sahoda noted.

However, he admitted the Lion Park’s walls could crack from the impact of a big earthquake, with the lions escaping and possibly making it into the mountains that surround the zoo. In that case, he said, the zoo “would have to call for the help of police because we don’t have a gun.”

“In emergencies, things could develop in an unexpected way,” Yuji Seki, the head of Tama Zoo, said after the drill. “We would like to continue working with emergency situations in mind.”

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