Zoo Fire Kills More Than 30 Animals

Illegal sky lanterns marking new year may be to blame
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 1, 2020 10:45 AM CST
Illegal Sky Lanterns May Have Started Fire at German Zoo
Firefighters stand in front of a burned-out animal house at the Krefeld Zoo in Germany on Wednesday.   (David Young/dpa via AP)

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 may have been caused by sky lanterns launched to celebrate the new year, the AP reports. Witnesses reported that they had seen the cylindrical paper lanterns with little fires inside flying in the night sky shortly after midnight near the Krefeld zoo, Gerd Hoppmann, the city's head of criminal police told reporters Wednesday, just before the zoo began to burn. Police and firefighters received the first emergency calls at 12:38am. The zoo near the Dutch border said that the ape house burned down and more than 30 animals, including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several monkeys, as well as fruit bats and birds, were killed. Only two chimpanzees could be rescued, 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," Dressen said, adding that many animal handlers were in shock at the devastation. "We have to seriously work through the mourning process. This is an unfathomable tragedy." The zoo director also said many of the dead animals were close to extinction in the wild. Police said that the use of sky lanterns is illegal in Krefeld and most other parts of Germany and that their use is uncommon. Sky lanterns, sometimes called Chinese lanterns, are a sort of hot-air balloon made of paper. They have been used in Asia for celebratory events for centuries. Hoppmann said investigators found used lanterns on the ground that hadn't burned entirely. They were 13.4 inches long, made out of white paper with an opening at the bottom where a small fire would have been suspended. The fire heats the air inside, making them fly and shine at night. Hoppmann said some of the lanterns had handwritten notes on them.

(Read more zoo stories.)

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