Animals perish in German zoo fire caused by sky lanterns

By: Dhipa Palani

Updated on

Reading Time: 2 minutes



A fire at a zoo in western Germany has killed over 30 animals in the early hours of New Year’s Day. Animals that perished include apes, monkeys, bats and birds. The Krefeld Zoo near the Dutch border has said that the entire Ape House burned down and all the animals inside were found dead. The fire was probably caused by sky lanterns which were released in celebration of the new year. 

The zoo’s official Facebook page confirmed that the Ape House had burned down completely, leaving only two chimpanzees alive. The Gorilla Garden, however, was spared and the gorillas are fine. “An unbelievable tragedy rolled us shortly after midnight. Our monkey house has burned down to the basic scaffolding. The Gorilla Garden has been spared. Kidogo and his family are fine,” the zoo recently posted

48-year-old Massa, the oldest living silverback gorilla in the European endangered species breeding program, also died in the fire.

Sky lantern ban for fire prevention

A sky lantern, also known as Kongming lantern or Chinese lantern, is a small hot air balloon. It has for long been popular during the Lantern Festival in China and in modern times has been used to mark special occasions all around the world. 

Although easily obtainable, sky lanterns are banned in many European countries, including Germany, unless specifically permitted by authorities. According to the Deutsche Flugsicherung (DFS), Germany’s air traffic control, the ascent of sky lanterns is prohibited in most areas of Germany for fire prevention reasons. However, sky lanterns are still commonly released on New Year’s Eve, birthdays and weddings in Germany. 

Dangers of sky lanterns

In 2013, a massive blaze in the United Kingdom involving 100,000 tonnes of plastic recycling material was sparked by a sky lantern. Not only do sky lanterns cause massive fires, but they also pose other dangers as listed below:

Animal and livestock suffering
Animals can end up eating lantern debris which can cause tears or punctures to internal organs leading to life-threatening conditions. Animals can also become trapped or entangled in debris from the lantern’s wire frame. 

False alarms
Sky lanterns have been blamed for false sightings of distress flares, especially when released near the coast. 

Environmental pollution
Sky lantern litter takes quite some time to decompose, even when the material is biodegradable. 

Danger to aviation
Aviation traffic such as planes and helicopters can be negatively affected by sky lanterns. In 2017, delays at the Beijing Nanyuan Airport were reported after lanterns became stuck in an airplane engine.