Paper mache lanterns released for New Year’s Eve caused the German zoo fire at a monkey enclosure that left dozens of animals dead.
A 60-year-old mother and her two adult daughters released five Chinese lanterns inscribed with good wishes for the New Year. Four lanterns were found near the site of the fire at Krefeld Zoo, while the fifth was destroyed by the flames, chief investigator Gerd Hoppmann told reporters, according to Reuters.
The women believed the lanterns that are banned locally and in most of Germany would be permitted for New Year’s Eve. They turned themselves in after hearing the news of the fire.
Most of the animals in the enclosure were killed, including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several bats and birds, according to the news wire. Two chimpanzees were the only survivors.
“I’ve seen very many human corpses,” Hoppmann said, according to Reuters. “And I was struck by how like humans the bodies of the great apes looked when transformed by the fire.”
“They launched the lanterns with good wishes and had no idea what could happen,” the chief investigator added, who also commended them for turning themselves in.
The women could face charges of fire by negligence, which could lead to up to five years in prison or a fine. The chief investigator refused to give more details about the women because they have received threats, Reuters reported.
The zoo’s entrance was crowded with candles, toys, messages and flowers as people mourned the loss, according a Facebook post from the zoo.