Two lions were killed to save a man who entered the lion enclosure on Saturday at the Santiago Metropolitan Zoo in Chile. The 20-year-old man suffered critical injuries to his head and pelvis and is currently admitted to a nearby hospital.

The man, identified as Franco Luis Ferrada Roman, jumped into the lion pen and removed his clothes, allegedly attempting suicide. Initially, the lions, male and female, ignored him but attacked after he provoked them by uttering apocalyptic and religious proverbs. The lions nearly mauled Roman to death.

Zookeepers sprayed the lions from a hose and then shot them with a tranquiliser dart which hit Roman instead. Zoo visitors had to watch the gruesome incident before the staff finally shot the animals.

The incident stirred anger on social media but the Santiago Metropolitan Zoo is defending its actions. The zoo’s director asserts that the lions’ deaths, which have been with them for more than 20 years, has deeply affected them but they had no choice but to save the man’s life. “The alarms sounded and chemical control arrived and an independent shooter arrived,” says the zoo’s Director Alejandra Montalva. “The shooter decided to save the life of the person and unfortunately we had to sacrifice two members of our family.”

Many social media users heavily criticised the zoo’s decision, calling a boycott to all zoos. On the other hand, other people pointed out that Roman could have been suffering from a mental health problem that clouded his judgment. Apparently, the young man was carrying a note with drawings of lions. Roman is reported to have said that God would protect him, writing words on his note such as “I am the lion” and “Jesus.” Doctors remain positive that Roman will survive the incident.

Many people held a candlelight vigil for the dead animals at the zoo on the night of the attack. The staff maintains that the zoo is still safe, keeping it open over the weekend with only the lion pen closed for ongoing investigations.