Fire-hit zoo to bounce back after £100k donations

New zoo recruit Jamie Wood with an Albino Burmese python. Picture: Ian Rutherford

New zoo recruit Jamie Wood with an Albino Burmese python. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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A ZOO devastated by a fire that killed 48 species of animals is set to bounce back bigger and better after receiving more than £100,000 of donations from the public.

Owners of the Five Sisters Zoo plan to open their new tropical house by the spring, following April’s blaze which gutted the reptile enclosure, killing everything in it.

More than 50 firefighters tackled the blaze at its height but could do nothing to stop it claiming the lives of 11 meerkats and a colony of half a million leaf cutter ants, as well as snakes, lizards and tortoises.

Heartbroken staff put their emotions aside during the clean-up operation to ensure it had partially reopened just over a week later.

Since then, the incredible public donations have been added to an insurance payout, enabling large sections to be rebuilt and ensuring that 2014 will be a far happier year in the zoo’s history.

Brian Curran, who opened the not-for-profit organisation in 2005, said it had been a difficult but inspiring year and pledged to re-invest “every penny”.

He said the public support had been humbling for himself and wife Shirley, and got them through a “very tough time.”

“The support we have received has been tremendous,” he said. “To get more than £100,000 in donations is unbelievable and there is still money coming in as well.

“We have done a lot of improvement work around the zoo to make it better for visitors and, more importantly, the animals.

“We will get it looking 
fantastic, like we promised everyone we would when the fire happened. It is not something we could have achieved without everyone’s support.

“We are all very excited at the prospect of how it could look next year. There is still a lot of work to be done but we can almost see the finishing line now.”

The new tropical house will stand where the current soft play area is located and a new medieval-themed petting zoo is planned in the former castle play area.

Its collection of owls, which include European Eagle, brown owls and new additions the spectacle owls, will have a much bigger enclosure to enjoy. There will be a barn – complete with its very own tractor – for the barn owls to share with its new long-eared and little owls.

And a free-flight walk-through aviary will let visitors get up close to the many wading birds, including ibises and cranes.

Lesley Coupar, the zoo’s head of marketing, said: “The birds will be either side of the walkway and there will be an indoor area for the birds with a designated viewing section.

“We have given the skunks a new enclosure and there will also be a walk-through wallaby area when they are moved.”

She said they now have a new zoo manager in Jamie Wood, who joins them from the West Midlands Safari Park, and Alison Larkin has become head of education at the centre.

The zoo was recently accepted as a fully fledged member of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums which recognises its work in animal welfare, conservation, education and research.

“It has been a roller coaster year but everything is going great now,” said Lesley. “I think people are excited about what 2014 will bring.”

kate.pickles@edinburghnews.com