On New Year’s Eve, a fire started in a German zoo that ended up killing 30 animals.
Among those lost were five orangutans, a 48-year-old silverback gorilla named Massa, a chimpanzee, several monkeys, several fruit bats, and birds.
It turns out the culprits were a 60-year-old mother and her two adult daughters who launched five Chinese lanterns into the sky despite them being illegal. The lanterns landed in the Krefeld zoo and caused the fire.
According to criminal police chief Gerd Hoppmann, the women were “completely normal people who seemed very sensible, very responsible,” while adding that they were “courageous” for turning themselves in to the police when they found out about the fire.
“That is courageous. It stands for something that they handed themselves in to the police like that. It is a decent thing to do and earns my respect,” he said.
That being said, the suspects face up to five years in jail or a hefty fine.
Hoppmann said that the lanterns being sold on the Internet do not give any warnings about what countries they are banned from. Most Germans celebrate the new year legally with fireworks but sky lanterns, which are popular in Asia, are largely illegal and unusual. The suspects had ordered the lanterns online without a permit.
Investigators are mulling a charge of “arson through negligence,” a sentence that carries a maximum of five years of jail time.
Based on initial investigations, the fire started in the north-eastern corner of the cage prior to strengthening and spreading. Police are now looking at weather patterns to determine how the blaze may have been strengthened.
The animals were killed by either burning to death or inhaling toxic smoke.
“I’ve seen very many human corpses,” Hoppmann said. “And I was struck by how like humans the bodies of the great apes looked when transformed by the fire.”
In light of the devastating incident, the city of Krefeld is considering a total ban on fireworks.
In the meantime, department store chain Real announced that it would stop selling the lanterns. Sky lanterns are still legal in the northern, coastal region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.
In the wake of the fire, the German animal protection association has called for a complete ban on any fireworks near farms, zoos, and kennels.
The groups said that the tragic blaze was “terrible proof of the dramatic consequences for animals” from “uncontrolled” celebrations.