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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 8 March 2021

New Year lanterns spark deadly German zoo fire

Ape house at Krefeld Zoo burns down, killing orangutans and gorillas

Mourners place candles, notes and flowers at the entrance to the zoo in Krefeld, Germany, where about 30 animals died in a fire. EPA
Mourners place candles, notes and flowers at the entrance to the zoo in Krefeld, Germany, where about 30 animals died in a fire. EPA

A fire at a zoo in western Germany in the first minutes of 2020 killed more than 30 animals, including apes, monkeys, bats and birds, authorities said.

Police said the fire might have been caused by sky lanterns launched to celebrate the new year.

Several witnesses reported seeing the cylindrical paper lanterns with small fires shortly after midnight Wednesday near the zoo, said Gerd Hoppmann, the city’s police chief.

“People reported seeing those sky lanterns flying at low altitude near the zoo and then it started burning,” Mr Hoppmann said.

Police and firefighters received the first emergency calls at 12.38am.

The zoo near the Dutch border said the entire ape house burnt down and more than 30 animals – including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimp and several monkeys, as well as fruit bats and birds – were killed.

Only two chimpanzees could be rescued from the flames by firefighters. They suffered burns but are in stable condition, zoo director Wolfgang Dressen said.

“It’s close to a miracle that Bally, a 40-year-old female chimpanzee, and Limbo, a younger male, survived this inferno,” Mr Dressen said.

Many animal handlers were in shock at the devastation, he said.

“We have to seriously work through the mourning process,” Mr Dressen said. “This is an unfathomable tragedy.”

He said than many of the dead animals were of species close to extinction in the wild.

Mr Hoppmann said that launching sky lanterns was illegal in Krefeld and most other parts of Germany.

He said that the people who launched them or people who saw anything should come forward to police.

Mr Hoppmann said that investigators found some lanterns on the ground that had not burnt entirely. Some had handwritten notes on them.

The Krefeld Zoo was opened in 1975 and attracts about 400,000 visitors each year. It was to stay closed on Wednesday.

Updated: January 2, 2020 03:28 AM

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