In a tragic story that could be mistaken for dark satire, police in the Netherlands shot and killed four reindeer that broke free from a Christmas sleigh display in a park over the weekend.

Officials in Holland's northern Drenthe province said police killed three of the four animals several hours after they escaped from Poelman Donkey Park in Marum, about 80 miles north of Amsterdam, on Saturday.

Officials said they feared for public safety if the animals were to run into traffic.

Police spokesman Dirk Neef told The Associated Press that animal control officials at first tried subduing the fourth reindeer with tranquilizer darts, but they later put that animal down as well.

The reindeer, which had been imported from Latvia, fled soon after their delivery at the park, according to the report.

In a related story, reindeer populations are reportedly dwindling across much of the Arctic, although experts say the species as a whole isn't in immediate danger.