A fire at German zoo has killed more than 30 animals, including apes, monkeys, bats and birds.
The fire, which police believe may have been caused by sky lanterns launched to celebrate the New Year, took place in the first minutes of 2020 this morning.
Krefeld Zoo - which is north of Dusseldorf - said the ape house burned down completely and animals including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several monkeys, as well as birds and fruit bats, died.
“We have to seriously work through the mourning process,” zoo director Wolfgang Dressen said, adding that his animal handlers are in shock.
“This is an unfathomable tragedy.”
Witnesses said they saw cylindrical paper lanterns with small fires inside flying in the night sky nearby, according to Krefeld’s head of criminal police Gerd Hoppman.
“People reported seeing those sky lanterns flying at low altitude near the zoo and then it started burning,” Mr Hoppmann said.
Police and firefighters were called to the blaze at 12.38am local time.
Two chimpanzees were rescued by firefighters, having suffered burns. They are in a stable condition, according Mr Dressen.
“It’s close to a miracle that Bally, a 40-year-old female chimpanzee, and Limbo, a younger male, survived this inferno,” he said.
He added that many of the dead animals were close to extinction in the wild.
A gorilla garden, which is near the ape house, was spared from the fire. Gorilla Kidogo and six members of his family group are alive.
Use of sky lanterns is illegal in Krefeld and other parts of Germany.
Mr Hoppman urged the people who launched them or witnesses to come forward to police.
He added that some of the white paper lanterns, which measured 34cm long, had not burned up entirely and some had handwritten notes inside.
Krefeld Zoo, which opened in 1975, attracts some 400,000 visitors annually.
Mr Hoppmann said investigators found some used lanterns on the ground that had not burned entirely.