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Mum Turns Herself In After New Year's Zoo Tragedy That Killed 30 'Nearly Extinct' Animals

A fire at a zoo in western Germany, which killed more than 30 'nearly extinct' animals, was caused by a 60-year-old mum and her two adult daughters, police have said. 

Police in Krefeld, near the Dutch border, said the three women turned themselves in on learning of the disaster in which five orangutans, two gorillas and a chimpanzee were killed, alongside bats and birds.

The women had bought five Chinese lanterns, banned locally and in most of Germany for over a decade, on the internet, believing they were allowed on New Year's Eve, chief investigator Gerd Hoppmann told a sombre news conference.

The women had inscribed the lanterns, papier-mache balloons lifted by the heat of the flame inside, with good wishes for the new year.

The zoo was festooned with candles and photos of the dead apes on Thursday, with nearby residents telling television stations how affected they had been by the deaths of the animals.

Candles and soft toys are placed at the entrance outside of the zoo in Krefeld, Germany, late evening 01 January 2020. All animals, in total more than 30, died during the fire at the Krefeld Zoo ape house in the New Year's night. The dead animals include chimpanzees, orangutans and two older gorillas. EPA/SASCHA STEINBACH

Police and firefighters received the first emergency calls at 12:38 am on New Year's Day.

The zoo, near the Dutch border, said that the entire Ape House burned down and more than 30 animals, including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several monkeys, as well as fruit bats and birds, were killed.

Only two chimpanzees could be rescued from the flames by firefighters. They suffered burns but are in stable condition, zoo director Wolfgang Dressen said.

"It's close to a miracle that Bally, a 40-year-old female chimpanzee, and Limbo, a younger male, survived this inferno," Dressen said, adding that many animal handlers were in shock at the devastation.

"We have to seriously work through the mourning process," Dressen said. "This is an unfathomable tragedy."

The zoo director also said that many of the dead animals were close to extinction in the wild.

The Krefeld zoo opened in 1975 and attracts some 400,000 visitors each year.

A so-called sky lantern is on display, which has set the monkey house of the Krefeld Zoo on fire in the New Year's night, during a press conference in Krefeld, Germany, 02 January 2020.  EPA/SASCHA STEINBACH
This Jan. 1, 2020 photo, shows a burned down animal house at the Zoo in Krefeld, Germany. Three woman are under investigation for launching paper sky lanterns blamed for setting off a fire that destroyed an ape house at the zoo in the first few minutes of the new year, killing more than 30 animals, officials said Thursday. (Christoph Reichwein/dpa via AP)