Nick Benson

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Catholic animal group ‘horrified’ at fatal Chester Zoo fire

A Catholic animal welfare group said it is “horrified” to hear of the tragic and fatal fire at one of the UK’s largest and most popular zoos.

More than 15 fire crews and ambulance staff attended Chester Zoo, which had 1.8 million visitors last year and is home to around 21,000 animals, after the blaze broke out in the zoo’s Monsoon Forest habitat just before 11.30am on Saturday 15th December.

Chester Zoo bosses have since confirmed that some animals died as a result of the fire.

“Now that our teams have started to assess the site, we are devastated to confirm the small number of species that we were unable to save,” said Jamie Christon, chief operating officer.

“These include a number of question mark cockroaches, Amano shrimps, betta hendra fish, cinnamon frogs, tentacled snakes and birds such as grosbeak starlings.

“These animals were all part of conservation breeding programmes and we will look to be part of those vital projects once again in the near future.”

Responding to the tragedy, Chris Fegan, Catholic Concern for Animals (CCA) chief executive, told The Catholic Universe: “Catholic Concern for Animals is horrified to hear of the recent large fire at Chester Zoo. It is awful to hear of the deaths of many creatures.”

Earlier this year, The Catholic Universe reported that Chester Zoo had teamed up with an order of Mexican nuns in a bid to save one of the world’s rarest amphibians from extinction.

In June, The Catholic Universe reported that the Chester Zoo team and Michoacána University are working with Dominican Sisters based near Lake Pátzcuaro, known as the Sisters of Immaculate Health, as well as the Sisters of the Sacred Salamander, to develop a breeding programme for a local salamander which is critically endangered.

A spokesperson from Chester Zoo confirmed that the salamanders were unharmed during the fire.

“The salamanders weren’t in the Monsoon Forest building that has been affected – only species from South East Asia are housed in there,” the spokesperson told The Catholic Universe.

Keepers were also able to move all the zoo’s mammal species to safety – including a group of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans, Sulawesi macaques, endangered silvery gibbons and birds such as rhinoceros hornbills. Visitors were also evacuated from the attraction.

Chester Zoo said it has been “totally overwhelmed” after more than £130,000 was raised in public donations after the devastating fire.

Bosses at the attraction say insurance will pay for fire damage and the cash, donated by more than 7,300 people, will be spent on conservation work.

The zoo described it as “one of the toughest days in our long history”.

But within hours, hundreds of supporters had taken to social media asking how they could help and the zoo set up an appeal fund, with a target of £50,000. The target was reached and doubled in just 24 hours.

Mr Christon said: “We have been overwhelmed by the amount of spontaneous donations made to the Just Giving page.

“The generosity has been truly humbling and all the money given will go directly towards our conservation projects both here in the zoo, and around the world.

“As a wildlife conservation charity, we will continue our mission to prevent extinction.”

Eyewitnesses said high winds fanned the flames in the roof of the building and one person was treated for smoke inhalation, according to North West Ambulance Service.

The zoo is working with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service to complete an investigation into what started the fire, which is thought to have been accidental.

Some events were cancelled on Saturday, but the zoo reopened on Sunday.

Donations to Chester Zoo can be made at: https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/monsoonforest

Picture: Firefighters at Chester Zoo after a fire broke out in the Monsoon Forest habitat area. (Peter Byrne/PA).

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