When a fire broke out around 6 a.m. local time Saturday at the ZSL London Zoo, keepers living on-site moved quickly to evacuate the animals’ enclosures, moving them to safety before firefighters’ arrival, according to the zoo.
Despite their efforts, a 9-year-old aardvark named Misha died in the blaze and four meerkats were missing as of early Saturday afternoon local time.
“At the moment we’re not certain what has happened to the meerkats but I’m not optimistic at this stage, unfortunately,” Dominic Jermey, the zoo’s Director General told BBC TV.
“We are all naturally devastated by this, but are immensely grateful to the fire brigade, who reacted quickly to the situation to bring the fire under control,” the zoo said in a statement.
More than 70 firefighters came to battle the blaze that broke out around the Animal Aventure Cafe and spread to a nearby shop and petting zoo, the London Fire Brigade said.
“When they arrived our crews were faced with a very well developed fire,” Station Manager David George with the London Fire Brigade said in a statement. “They worked incredibly hard in arduous conditions to bring it under control as quickly as possible and to stop it from spreading to neighbouring animal enclosures.”
After three hours on the scene, firefighters were able to extinguish the flames.
The BBC reports one person was taken to the hospital and several others were treated at the scene for minor injuries.
“Those staff who were first on the scene have been treated here for shock and smoke inhalation,” the zoo said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation and the zoo said it would work closely with firefighters to ascertain what happened.
The other animals in the vicinity of the flames are being monitored by veterinarians, who will continue to keep a watch over them in the coming days, according to the zoo.
The Zoological Society of London opened the facility in 1828, making it the world’s oldest scientific zoo. Today thousands of different species call the zoo home.
Misha was “one of the attraction’s best-loved animals,” reports Reuters.
The aardvark, Afrikaans for “earth pig,” eats ants and termites and has powerful claws allowing it “to dig faster than multiple people with shovels,” says the zoo. They are nocturnal creatures, spending their days in cool burrows, in part to evade predators.
The zoo remained closed on Saturday but said that after consulting with fire experts it would reopen on Sunday.