London Zoo Fire Leaves Staff with Smoke Inhalation; One Aardvark Dead, Four Meerkats Missing

One of the London Zoo’s resident aardvarks is dead and four meerkats are missing after a blaze broke out in the facility’s cafe.

A grainy image of a fire behind a set of gates.

More than 70 firefighters helped control the fire near an animal petting area and the meerkat enclosure.

In a statement, the zoo confirmed one of its aardvarks, nine-year-old female Misha, had died and said four meerkats were missing.

“We are all naturally devastated by this, but are immensely grateful to the fire brigade, who reacted quickly to the situation to bring the fire under control,” the statement read.

“It’s too soon to speculate on the cause of the fire but we will be working very closely with fire investigators over the coming days and weeks.”

In a 2014 press release, the zoo said Misha was very active and enjoyed digging to look for “special treats like crickets and mealworms”.

Firefighters stand outside a blackened building

Zoo staff were checking the rest of the animal population and the facility remained closed to the public on what had been expected to be a busy day.

The fire started shortly after 6:00am on Saturday (local time), and staff who live on the site immediately started moving animals to safety, officials said.

It took 72 firefighters more than three hours to put the fire out.

An aardvark walks in a zoo enclosure

London Fire Brigade Station Manager Clive Robinson said crews would stay at the zoo throughout the morning to dampen any small pockets of fire.

The attraction in London’s Regent’s Park is the world’s oldest scientific zoo and dates it origins back to 1826.

It houses 20,166 animals, according to its inventory for 2017.

Firefighters said the cause of the blaze was under investigation.