STAFF at a Scottish zoo are “devastated” after a horrific blaze tore through their enclosures and killed dozens of animals.
In a blaze described as “our worst nightmare”, the owners of Five Sisters Zoo in Polbeth, West Lothian discovered the tropical house was on fire in the early hours of this morning .
Around 50 firefighters battled for hours to stop the flames spreading, after the blaze broke out just before 4am.
It is thought a large number of reptiles, along with an otter and at least two meerkats have died, but staff have still to check which animals survived.
Two rare West African dwarf crocodiles made a “miraculous” escape despite their enclosure burning down around them, and a female otter was also rescued from the blaze.
The privately-run zoo opened in 2005, is managed by husband and wife Brian and Shirley Curran, who live on-site.
After being woken by an alarm, the couple went to the tropical house and saw it engulfed by flames.
More than 11 fire engines rushed to tackle the fire, but high winds meant there was a danger of the flames spreading.
The tropical house, which is home to many snakes, iguanas and insects, was unable to be saved and it is thought every animal inside died.
Lesley Coupar, of the zoo’s marketing department, said: “The tropical house was completely ablaze.
“The fire brigade took control and as the fire subsidised they worked with keepers to rescue the animals.
“Nothing inside the building survived.”
Firefighters tackled the blaze but were only able to bring the flames under control just before 9.00am.
Vets and zoo staff helped to move animals to safety once the flames died down.
Ms Coupar said nine meerkats were missing, two were being treated, and another two had to be put down.
One of the zoo’s popular otters did not survive the blaze. Ms Coupar said: “The otters are housed in a wooden building. The male was found dead, but the female was brought out and treated on site.”
She said staff had been shocked by the fire: “We’re a small dedicated staff, the animals were so dear to us. It’s a completely devastating to us.
“In many ways we’re a sanctuary, we take in other animals which are surplus to requirement for other zoos.
“Brian and Shirley are completely traumatised.
“But we’ve had amazing support – the staff have all been in and the phone’s haven’t stopped ringing.”
The zoo was closed today, but Ms Coupar said it would be unlikely Five Sisters would have to shut down permanently as a result of the blaze.
Describing the crocodiles’ escape as “miraculous”, she said: “Just outside the tropical house we’ve got a wooden hut for the crocodiles – the whole hut burned down.
“It has a pond and an area for sitting in. They can stay underwater for about 30 or 40 minutes.
“The fire brigade and the vets took them to safety.”
A group of lemurs based near the reptile house had all survived but suffered some smoke inhalation, she said.
Staff had still to calculate exactly how many animals died, but Ms Coupar said the number was likely to be in double figures.
She said: “Even being picked up and handled is traumatic [for the animals.]”
Mr and Mrs Curran were too distraught to speak about the incident today, Ms Coupar said.
A statement from the zoo said: “Our worst nightmare – a fire in the middle of the night has destroyed the reptile house and firemen are still working to make the site safe.
“Thank you to everyone who has sent messages of support. The owners, staff and volunteers are distraught so appreciate your kind words.”
A police spokesman said an investigation would be carried out to establish the cause of the blaze.
The zoo houses over 130 different species of birds, animals and reptiles from across the world.
A trio of brown bears rescued from a travelling circus moved to the zoo last year, after £80,000 was raised for their enclosure, but they were unaffected by the fire.