Sky lanterns set off illegally in Germany burn over 30 captive animals in zoo to death

Three women turned themselves to the police.

Sumita Thiagarajan | January 03, 2020, 04:27 PM

Four lanterns were suspected to be the cause of fire at Krefeld zoo in Germany on New Year's Eve.

A 60-year-old woman and her daughters later turned themselves in to the police for releasing sky lanterns which are suspected to have started the fire.

Sky lanterns set off illegally caused fire in German zoo

The city's head of criminal police reported that eye witnesses had seen the lit sky lanterns, composed of a solid fuel flame with a thin paper shell, floating in the sky shortly after midnight close to the premises of the zoo.

The police found four lanterns with handwritten wishes for the New Year in the debris of the burned down enclosure at the zoo.

The handwriting matches that of the three women who came forward to the police to claim responsibility for releasing the banned sky lanterns.

According to the police, the three women, who are local residents, were not aware that the lanterns they purchased online were illegal in Germany.

Sky Lantern from German Zoo Investigation Photo via EPA

The casualties of the fire

The zoo's tropical ape house was completely burnt to the ground and claimed the lives of over 30 animals, including a silverback gorilla and critically endangered Bornean orangutans.

The silverback gorilla, a 48-year-old senior named Massa, lost his life in the fire.

According to the zoo's Facebook page, Massa fathered seven children and have multiple grandchildren.


Massa enjoyed frozen treats.


In captivity, silverback gorillas can live up to 60 years of age and take about 13 years to reach maturity.

Two orangutans were also part of the casualties in the blaze.

They were featured in a Facebook post by Krefeld Zoo just hours before the incident.


Members of the public left candles, stuffed toys, notes and flowers in front of the zoo to mourn the loss of the captive animals who were unable to escape the fire.


The problem with sky lanterns

While sky lanterns have been around for centuries, they pose a threat in the urban environment and are restricted or banned in many countries.

On various occasions, the lanterns have posed a risk to the environment, property, and aviation.

In 2017, Brazil's Olympic velodrome caught fire when a sky lantern fell on the building. 


The velodrome was used for the 2016 Olympics' track cycling events.

Sky lanterns also threatened wildlife as birds can get entangled and killed as a result.


Top photo collage via @pureslaw/Twitter and Skylanterns/Facebook