A German zoo has confirmed that its “worst fears have come true” after a fire destroyed one of its enclosures, killing almost all the primates inside.
Krefeld Zoo, in the west of Germany, said that only two chimpanzees in the enclosure survived the tragic fire, which took the lives of about thirty animals during the early hours of New Year’s Day.
Among the victims is the longest-lived gorilla in Europe, a 48-year-old primate called Massa. At least five orangutans, a chimpanzee and two other gorillas also died, in addition to several individuals from smaller species of monkeys and bats.
In the so-called “house of monkeys” there were rare species of Borneo orangutans, chimpanzees and marmosets, which lived together in a space of 2,000 square meters.
Police said the fire was probably caused by Chinese lanterns that were used in the New Year celebrations. A 60-year-old woman and her two daughters handed themselves in to police and admitting to having flown illegal Chinese lanterns nearby, which are suspected of causing the fire.
The suspects said they bought the flying lanterns on the internet and said they did not know they are banned in Germany.
They are accused of causing a “fire by negligence” and could face five years in jail or a fine. “People said they saw floating lanterns in the sky flying at low altitude near the zoo, and then they started burning,” said Gerd Hoppmann, head of the city’s criminal police.
He also said investigators found such lanterns near the burned area of the enclosure.
The monkey enclosure of the Krefeld Zoo was built in 1975 and recreated a tropical climate for fruit bats and flying birds, in addition to various types of primates.
The zoo said on Twitter that it is a “miracle” that two chimpanzees, Bally and Limbo, survived the fire. They are slightly injured, but in the care of veterinarians.