THE death toll from the weekend fire at a Scottish zoo has been confirmed as having claimed the lives of 11 meerkats, along with 47 other species including a colony of half a million leaf cutter ants.
As investigations continued to establish the cause of the blaze, zoo staff confirmed the entire reptile house had been destroyed, killing all the species inside including the ants as well as snakes, lizards and tortoises.
Messages of sympathy and support have poured in as staff at Five Sisters Zoo in Polbeth began the task of clearing up after the devastation.
The Royal Zoological Society of Scotland extended its sympathies yesterday and chief executive Chris West said: “We were naturally very concerned to hear of the fire at Five Sisters Zoo and have been in touch to offer them our support.”
Among the survivors were two dwarf crocodiles, a female otter and two meerkats.
Zoo marketing manager Lesley Coupar said: “These two were incredibly lucky. There were two other meerkats behind them in the tunnel but they were too badly burned and they had to be put to sleep. The other nine all died.
“To look at the reptile house and everything gone from there, it’s just the worst tragedy ever – a nightmare.”
Users took to the zoo’s Facebook page to express their regret at the event, and offering other creatures, including corn snakes and tortoises, to restock the reptile house upon reopening.
A statement on the zoo’s website read: “The fire spread to the otter pond, killing our male otter, but the female is alive and being cared for by staff. Two of our meerkats survived, despite their house being totally destroyed.
“The tropical house where the fire broke out was well alight when crews arrived on scene.”
A statement on behalf of Brian and Shirley Curran, owners of Five Sisters Zoo, said: “We have lost so many of our beautiful and precious animals, reptiles and fish, and the pain and hurt we all feel is too bad to put into words.”
Since news of the fire broke, the zoo has received more than £5,000 in donations from concerned members of the public. In response, the zoo has set up a dedicated fund for those wishing to donate.
Ms Coupar added: “The kindness of people is keeping us going.”
The donations of wellwishers will be essential to the upkeep of the zoo in the next few days, as it remains closed while fire fighters seek to identify the cause of the fire.
Five Sisters Zoo was established in 2005 as a family-run, non-profit organisation, and is funded entirely by visitor admissions.
A West Lothian Council spokesman said: “This is very sad news and it is deeply upsetting to hear that a number of animals perished in the fire.
“West Lothian Council will look to offer assistance, and to help ensure that this popular facility recovers as quickly as possible.”
A heating element in the reptile house is being closely examined as a possible source. No people were injured as a result of the fire.
A spokeswoman for the fire service said it was conducting a “thorough investigation” into the cause of the fire, and that all initial checks indicated the blaze was not suspicious.