The stealing of the maypole is a tradition in Austria and Germany carried out ahead of springtime celebrations, leading to heightened security around some maypoles as ever more elaborate thefts are carried out.
Early on Thursday morning the “thieves” from Haag Zoo stole the 20-metre-high decorated maypole from the company Strabag in nearby Sankt Valentin.
“It just happened that we were standing round together when we realised that the zoo staff have never yet stolen a maypole and there was one already prepared at our neighbours that seemed ideal,” said zoo spokesman Johann Kogler.
“We then wondered: where can we put this, so it is completely secure? We could find no better place to bring it than the lions' den. Now it is definitely the most secure maypole in the whole of Austria.”
The staff lured the lions out of their normal enclosure with fresh meat before placing the maypole in the centre and letting the animals return.
“To steal the pole back from the lion's den would be impossible,” Kogler added. “This was my first maypole theft. I tried it before when I was a teenager but it did not work that time because it was being watched too closely.”
The zoo staff say they are planning on returning the maypole to its rightful owner in time for celebrations taking place on May 21st.