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Germany: Politician slams lanterns company after zoo fire

John Silk with dpa
January 5, 2020

Ursula Heinen-Esser has expressed her dismay at the accessibility of the products that resulted in the inferno. More than 30 animals, including a number of apes, were killed in the disaster on New Year's Eve.

Candles at the entrance to Krefeld Zoo
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/R. Weihrauch

The environment minister for the German region of North Rhine-Westphalia said Saturday the seller of the sky lanterns that caused the fire at Krefeld Zoo had a moral responsibility for killing more than 30 animals.

The lanterns are not allowed to be sold in Germany, though online purchases are possible.

"What is important is why such dangerous objects as sky lanterns can be marketed so easily," Ursula Heinen-Esser (CDU) told the newspaper Rheinische Post. She added: "It seems to me that the commercial enterprise, at least morally, is jointly responsible."

The politician rejected the notion that animal welfare standards for zoos are not stringent enough.

"I have the impression that the zoos in North Rhine-Westphalia are very well managed," said Heinen-Esser. "The employees are all animal lovers who are very committed to animals and their welfare."

Read more: Sky lanterns – the most elegant fire hazard?

Three people own up

The zoo's monkey house burned down on New Year's Eve, resulting in the deaths of more than 30 animals, including great apes. Police and prosecutors believe the fire was caused by sky lanterns. 

A woman and her two daughters have come forward to police for questioning.

In a press conference on Thursday, police said the fire broke out when the trio released five paper lanterns marked with New Year's wishes into the night sky.

The family was unaware that a 2009 ban on the decorations also applied to New Year's festivities, police said. The family promptly turned themselves in to the authorities, who confirmed that the individuals were being investigated for negligent arson. If found guilty, the women face up to five years in prison.

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John Silk Editor and writer for English news, as well as the Culture and Asia Desks.@JSilk