UK

Zoo Fire At Five Sisters In West Lothian Kills Entire Reptile House, Nine Meerkats Feared Dead

15/04/2013 10:03 BST | Updated 15/04/2013 10:09 BST

A fierce fire that tore through a zoo in Scotland has killed every animal in the tropical house, including an otter, meerkats and turtles.

The blaze broke out at the Five Sisters Zoo at Polbeth, West Calder, West Lothian, shortly before 4am on Monday.

Around 50 firefighters tackled the blaze at its height and managed to stop it spreading to other enclosures at the attraction.

zoo fire

The fire ripped through the tropical house

A male otter in a neighbouring enclosure also died and two meerkats had to be put down because of their injuries. Nine meerkats are also missing, feared dead.

Around 15 are thought to have escaped the worst of the blaze after running down a tunnel that led out of their playpen to the outside.

Fire crews managed to rescue two dwarf west African crocodiles and the female otter. No people were injured.

The owners, staff and volunteers at the zoo were said to be distraught.

meerkat

Two meerkats had to be euthanised.

Lesley Coupar, of marketing and visitor services at the zoo, said: "We are devastated. It's the worst nightmare.

"We're in the business of rescuing animals, giving a safe haven to animals.

"Although the animals are wild, we know them intimately and it's just such a tragedy. The owners are distraught, as are the staff and volunteers."

"Sadly everything that was in the reptile house has perished.

"Miraculously the two dwarf West African crocodiles, which live in a house just outside (the reptile enclosure), have survived because they've obviously been in their pond, deep down in the water.

"The otters are housed very close by and sadly the male otter has died. We managed to rescue the female, who's being cared for by our head zoo keeper and vet. We're hopeful that she will survive."

lemur

The ruffed lemur was suffering from smoke inhalation (file picture)

Snakes, lizards, turtles, tortoises and an ant colony were among the creatures which perished in the blaze.

Zoo bosses have also been working to assess the impact of the fire on the nearby meerkat enclosure.

Ms Coupar said: "Nine of them are missing. Two had to be euthanised because of their injuries and two are being cared for by the vet and keepers."

Staff expressed relief that the fire, which occurred on a day of high winds, did not spread further.

"Very close by we've got lemurs, the monkey house, a whole variety of birds in enclosures and because it's such an intense small area, it could have spread very quickly," said Ms Coupar.

The zoo has received hundreds of messages of support and offers of help from members of the public, for which bosses have expressed their thanks.

They are now working to open the attraction as soon as possible and care for the animals that remain at the zoo.

Ms Coupar said: "The staff, volunteers and owners are determined that we have to reopen soon. Our only means of income is the admission charge, the donations that we get to the zoo.

"There's still a whole range of animals that are fine, they need to be cared for. We need to get over this and get it re-opened as soon as possible."

A fire fund has now been set up and people can find details of how to donate to it on the zoo's temporary web page.

A total of 11 fire engines, including specialist appliances, were involved tackling the blaze. Some crews and a fire investigation unit remained on the scene hours after the incident began.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is being carried out.

The privately-owned zoo, a non-profit making organisation, was established in 2005, according to its website.