Tributes left at a makeshift memorial site in front of the monkey house at Krefeld zoo. Photograph: Fabian Strauch/AFP/Getty Images
Mother and two daughters investigated for setting off sky lanterns on New Year’s Eve
AFP in Berlin
A mother and her two daughters have turned themselves in to police over a blaze that killed dozens of animals at a zoo in Germany on New Year’s Eve, police confirmed on Thursday.
The three women are being investigated for setting off flying lanterns, which are banned, to celebrate the New Year, Gerd Hoppmann, head of the Krefeld criminal police, said at a press conference.
The 60-year-old mother and her two adult daughters handed themselves in to police on Wednesday after hearing about the fire on local radio, Hoppmann said.
He said they “seemed like sensible and responsible people” who had shown courage in coming forward. Local prosecutors are now investigating the women for negligent arson, a crime that can be punished by up to five years in prison.
The fire, which claimed the lives of 30 primates including eight great apes, broke out shortly before midnight on New Year’s Eve at Krefeld zoo in North Rhine-Westphalia.
The enclosure housed gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and marmosets. Only two chimpanzees survived, as well as a family of gorillas in a nearby building.
In a statement on Thursday, the zoo said that it was a miracle that the two chimpanzees, named Bally and Limbo, had survived the blaze.
“Both suffered only light injuries. They have been moved to the gorilla enclosure and are being looked after by several zoo vets,” said the zoo, which remained closed on Thursday.
Police believe the fire was caused by one of the illegal lanterns landing on the roof of the monkey enclosure. Hoppmann said investigators had accounted for four lanterns but one, believed to be the one responsible for the blaze, was missing.
Flying lanterns have been forbidden in Germany for 10 years, but Hoppmann said the women were unaware of the ban when they bought theirs on the internet.
The case has intensified the debate over the widespread use of fireworks by individuals on New Year’s Eve.
Setting off fireworks in public is a longstanding New Year tradition in Germany, but it has faced increasing criticism from environmental and animal protection groups in recent years.
On Wednesday, the German animal protection association called for all kinds of fireworks to be banned near zoos, farms and kennels.
The tragedy has prompted tearful visitors to light candles and leave flowers and soft toys at the entrance to the zoo. Krefeld zoo is home to about 1,000 animals and attracts about 400,000 visitors a year.