Blaze at German zoo’s monkey sanctuary kills dozens of animals

Fire ‘likely’ caused by Chinese sky lanterns set off amid New Year’s Eve celebrations

Firemen work at the burning monkey house of the zoo in Krefeld, western Germany, early on New Year’s Day. Photograph:  Alexander Forstreuter/DPA/AFP  via Getty Images

Firemen work at the burning monkey house of the zoo in Krefeld, western Germany, early on New Year’s Day. Photograph: Alexander Forstreuter/DPA/AFP via Getty Images

 

Dozens of animals including gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees were killed at a zoo in the western German city of Krefeld after a fire ripped through the monkey sanctuary in the early hours of the new year.

The fire was likely to have been caused by Chinese sky lanterns that were set off amid New Year’s Eve celebrations and landed inside the zoo, police said on Wednesday afternoon.

Local residents raised alarm at 12.38am on Wednesday. When fire services arrived at the zoo shortly after, they found the tropical monkey sanctuary to be engulfed in a fully developed fire that could not be contained before the building had burned down to its skeletal structure.

“Our worst fears have become reality,” the zoo’s management said in a message posted on Facebook at 5.50am. “There are no surviving animals in the monkey house.”

Opened in 1975, the 2,000 sq metre enclosure housed 10 great apes as well as numerous smaller monkeys, tropical birds and fruit bats.

German media reported on Wednesday morning that more than 30 animals had been killed in the blaze.

A nearby open-air gorilla enclosure had remained untouched by the fire, the

zoo said.

A silverback male popular with visitors, Kidogo, and his family were alive and well. Two chimpanzees, female Bally and male Limbo, were also discovered to have survived the fire.

However, German media reported that 48-year-old Massa, the oldest living silverback gorilla in the European Endangered Species breeding programme, had perished in the flames.

Investigators believe it is “highly likely” the fire was was caused Chinese sky lanterns, also known as Kongming lanterns, which had been illegally set off in the city, police said at a press conference on Wednesday.

Several witnesses had reported low-flying lanterns in the city on Tuesday night, and three lanterns with handwritten messages had been found near the

zoo enclosure, a police spokesperson said.

Setting off rockets and firecrackers in the streets is a key part of Germany’s New Year’s Eve ritual, and the law allows citizens to light their own fireworks in public during the period.

Recent years have seen a growing debate about a ban on pyrotechnics, and around 30 German municipalities imposed partial bans on private fireworks this year.

The sale of Chinese sky lanterns is already illegal in all German states bar the eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. – Guardian News and Media 2020