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article imageAardvark, meerkats killed in London Zoo fire

By Alice RITCHIE (AFP)     Dec 23, 2017 in World

A large fire at London Zoo killed an aardvark and four meerkats on Saturday, while several staff were treated for smoke inhalation.

The zoo, which attracts 1.2 million visitors a year, was closed following the pre-dawn blaze but said it would reopen again on Sunday.

It took 72 firefighters more than three hours to bring the fire under control, after it broke out in the Animal Adventure cafe and spread quickly to an adjacent shop.

"Sadly our vets have confirmed the death of our nine-year-old aardvark, Misha. There are also four meerkats still unaccounted for, but we are now presuming these have also died," a statement from the zoo said.

It said keepers living at the zoo in Regent's Park had responded quickly to the fire, which began shortly after 6:00 am (0600 GMT), and some staff had required medical attention.

The London Ambulance Service said it had treated eight patients at the scene, six for smoke inhalation and two for minor injuries.

One of these, a firefighter who suffered a minor wrist injury, was taken to hospital as a precaution, the London Fire Brigade said.

London Zoo employees stand outside an animal enclosure after a fire
London Zoo employees stand outside an animal enclosure after a fire

"We have keepers living on site and they, along with our security team, responded incredibly quickly to move animals to safe locations within their enclosures," the zoo said.

It added: "All other animals in the vicinity are being monitored closely by our vets, but early signs suggest they have not been affected. We will continue to monitor them over the coming days.

"We are all naturally devastated by this, but are immensely grateful to the fire brigade, who reacted quickly to the situation to bring the fire under control.

"It's too soon to speculate on the cause of the fire but we will be working very closely with fire investigators over the coming days and weeks to ascertain the cause."

The zoo was closed on Saturday, but it said that after consultations with fire experts, "we are confident that we can safely open the zoo tomorrow".

- 'Arduous conditions' -

The zoo opened in 1828 and is now a leading conservation organisation as well as a major tourist attraction.

According to the Visit Britain tourism agency, it attracted 1.21 million visitors last year, making it the ninth most popular paid-for attraction in the country.

London Fire Brigade officer Clive Robinson said that three-quarters of the cafe and shop, and half the roof, had been damaged by the fire, which also affected a nearby animal petting area.

"When they arrived our crews were faced with a very well-developed fire," he said.

"They worked incredibly hard in arduous conditions to bring it under control as quickly as possible and to stop it from spreading to neighbouring animal enclosures."

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