An aardvark has died and four meerkats are missing after a fire at London Zoo.
Eight zoo workers have been treated by paramedics after a desperate attempt to save the animals from the blaze, which broke out in a petting area.
One staff member was taken to hospital and seven others were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and shock.
A nine-year-old aardvark named Misha has been found dead, the zoo confirmed, adding it was “devastated” by what had happened.
The aardvark and the missing meerkats were kept in the Animal Adventure zone, a children’s zoo where the fire began. The area also houses goats, sheep, donkeys, llamas, alpacas, and pigs.
The fire began at about 6am and spread to a gift shop and cafe.
“We have keepers living on site and they, along with our security team, responded incredibly quickly to move animals to safe locations within their enclosures,” said a zoo spokeswoman.
“Those staff who were first on the scene have been treated on site for shock and smoke inhalation.
“Sadly our vets have confirmed the death of our nine-year-old aardvark, Misha. There are also four meerkats still unaccounted for, but we are now presuming these have also died.
“All other animals in the vicinity are being monitored closely by our vets, but early signs suggest they have not been affected. We will continue to monitor them over the coming days.”
The spokeswoman added: “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. “
London Ambulance Service said it treated six people for smoke inhalation and two for minor injuries. One was taken to a north-west London hospital.
Seventy-two firefighters with 10 engines battled for more than three hours to bring the blaze under control and prevent it spreading to other animal enclosures.
About three-quarters of the cafe and shop and half of its roof were ablaze. Pictures from the scene showed firefighters hosing down roaring flames as smoke billowed from the building.
The blaze was under control by 9.16am.
The zoo spokeswoman added: “It’s too soon to speculate on the cause of the fire but we will be working very closely with fire investigators over the coming days and weeks to ascertain the cause. The zoo will be closed for the day and fire crews will remain on site for some time damping down.”
The zoo will reopen on Christmas Eve, she added.
London Fire Brigade station manager Clive Robinson said: “The fire mainly affected the cafe and shop. Part of nearby animal petting area was also affected although at this stage we don’t know if any animals were involved.
“Firefighters worked hard to bring the fire under control as quickly as possible and to stop it from spreading to neighbouring animal enclosures.
“Crews will remain at the scene throughout the morning damping down any remaining pockets of fire.”
The zoo is usually open every day of the year except 25 December and had been expected to be busy on the weekend before Christmas.
The attraction houses 20,166 animals, according to its inventory for 2017. It is the world’s oldest scientific zoo, dating back to 1826.
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