Aardvark dies in blaze at London Zoo, meerkats missing

LONDON (Reuters) - An aardvark was killed and four meerkats are missing believed dead after a blaze tore through part of London Zoo early on Saturday, destroying a cafe and gift shop.

The fire broke out shortly after 0600 GMT at the zoo's Animal Adventure section before spreading to the shop and cafe, near to an area where visitors can handle and feed animals, the zoo and London Fire Brigade said.

More than 70 firefighters took three hours to bring the fire under control while desperate keepers who live on the site in Regent's Park in central London moved animals to safety. Some of the staff needed treatment for smoke inhalation and shock.

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Firefighters tackle blaze at London Zoo
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Firefighters tackle blaze at London Zoo
Firefighters stand near an animal enclosure at London Zoo following a fire which broke out at a shop and cafe at the attraction, in central London, Britain December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner
A firefighter is seen at London Zoo where more than 70 firefighters tackled a blaze after fire broke out at a shop and cafe at the attraction, in central London, Britain December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner
Firefighters stand near a building at London Zoo following a fire which broke out at a shop and cafe at the attraction, in central London, Britain December 23, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner
A London Fire Brigade firefighter attends to help control a fire that broke out at a cafe and shop at London Zoo in London on December 23, 2017. A fire broke out at London Zoo early on Saturday morning, engulfing a cafe and shop near an animal petting area, and leaving one aardvark missing. Several staff were treated for smoke inhalation and shock following the blaze, which broke out in the Animal Adventure section shortly after 6:00 am (0600 GMT), the zoo said. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
London Zoo employees comfort a colleague after a fire broke out at a cafe and shop at London Zoo in London on December 23, 2017. A fire broke out at London Zoo early on Saturday morning, engulfing a cafe and shop near an animal petting area, and leaving one aardvark missing. Several staff were treated for smoke inhalation and shock following the blaze, which broke out in the Animal Adventure section shortly after 6:00 am (0600 GMT), the zoo said. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
London Zoo employees comfort a colleague after a fire broke out at a cafe and shop at London Zoo in London on December 23, 2017. A fire broke out at London Zoo early on Saturday morning, engulfing a cafe and shop near an animal petting area, and leaving one aardvark missing. Several staff were treated for smoke inhalation and shock following the blaze, which broke out in the Animal Adventure section shortly after 6:00 am (0600 GMT), the zoo said. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
London Fire Brigade firefighters attend to control a fire that broke out at a cafe and shop at London Zoo in London on December 23, 2017. A fire broke out at London Zoo early on Saturday morning, engulfing a cafe and shop near an animal petting area, and leaving one aardvark missing. Several staff were treated for smoke inhalation and shock following the blaze, which broke out in the Animal Adventure section shortly after 6:00 am (0600 GMT), the zoo said. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
London Fire Brigade firefighters walk past lamas as they attend to control a fire that broke out at a cafe and shop at London Zoo in London on December 23, 2017. A fire broke out at London Zoo early on Saturday morning, engulfing a cafe and shop near an animal petting area, and leaving one aardvark missing. Several staff were treated for smoke inhalation and shock following the blaze, which broke out in the Animal Adventure section shortly after 6:00 am (0600 GMT), the zoo said. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
London Fire Brigade firefighters attend to control a fire that broke out at a cafe and shop at London Zoo in London on December 23, 2017. A fire broke out at London Zoo early on Saturday morning, engulfing a cafe and shop near an animal petting area, and leaving one aardvark missing. Several staff were treated for smoke inhalation and shock following the blaze, which broke out in the Animal Adventure section shortly after 6:00 am (0600 GMT), the zoo said. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: A firefighter checks the area after a fire destroyed a number of buildings at London Zoo on December 23, 2017 in London, England. London Fire Brigade have stated that no animals or people have been injured in the blaze, which began at around 06:00 near the Adventure cafe. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: A firefighter checks the area after a fire destroyed a number of buildings at London Zoo on December 23, 2017 in London, England. London Fire Brigade have stated that no animals or people have been injured in the blaze, which began at around 06:00 near the Adventure cafe. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: A Senior Accident Investigator enters the area after a fire destroyed a number of buildings at London Zoo on December 23, 2017 in London, England. London Fire Brigade have stated that no animals or people have been injured in the blaze, which began at around 06:00 near the Adventure cafe. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Smoke rises from the Adventure cafe and shop near the Meerkat enclosure at London Zoo following a fire earlier Saturday. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
Firefighters at Adventure cafe and shop near the Meerkat enclosure at London Zoo where there was a blaze earlier Saturday. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 23: Firefighters head back to their trucks after tackling a fire which destroyed a number of buildings at London Zoo on December 23, 2017 in London, England. London Fire Brigade have stated that no animals or people have been injured in the blaze, which began at around 06:00 near the Adventure cafe. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
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Ten-year-old Misha the aardvark, one of the zoo's best-loved animals, perished in the fire and four of the meerkats were unaccounted for and are also presumed to have died.

Taking their name from the Afrikaans word for "earth-pig", aardvarks are large burrowing mammals found across much of Africa.

"We're absolutely devastated that Misha the aardvark has been killed and we're still trying to find out what happened to the meerkats, but at the moment the site where this fire took place is closed down," Dominic Jermey, the zoo's Director General, told BBC TV.

"At the moment we're not certain what has happened to the meerkats but I'm not optimistic at this stage, unfortunately."

Other animals nearby are being monitored by vets, but the zoo said indications were that they were unaffected. It said it hoped to reopen on Sunday.

It is the world's oldest scientific zoo, dating from 1826, and houses 20,166 animals, according to its inventory for 2017.

The fire brigade said it had sent 10 fire engines and 72 firefighters to the scene and added that the cause of the blaze was under investigation.

"The fire mainly involved the cafe and shop but part of a nearby animal petting area was also affected," said Station Manager David George.

"When they arrived our crews were faced with a very well developed fire. They worked incredibly hard in arduous conditions to bring it under control as quickly as possible and to stop it from spreading to neighboring animal enclosures."

(Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Related: See animals at the London Zoo celebrating the holidays: 

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London Zoo animals celebrate Christmas
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London Zoo animals celebrate Christmas
Squirrel Monkeys in London Zoo look for treats inside a Christmas stocking in their enclosure in London, Britain December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A keeper feeds the penguins beside a Christmas tree at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A keeper feeds the penguins beside a Christmas tree at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Squirrel Monkeys in London Zoo look for treats inside a Christmas stocking in their enclosure in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Squirrel Monkey in London Zoo looks for treats inside a Christmas stocking in its enclosure in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Squirrel Monkeys in London Zoo look for treats inside a Christmas stocking in their enclosure in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Lioness opens up her Christmas presents in her enclosure at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Lioness opens up her Christmas present in her enclosure at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Lioness opens up her Christmas present in her enclosure at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
Squirrel Monkeys in London Zoo look for treats inside a Christmas stocking in their enclosure in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
An Squirrel Monkey in London Zoo looks for treats inside a Christmas stocking in it's enclosure in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Lioness opens up her Christmas present in her enclosure at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Lioness jumps to open up her Christmas presents in her enclosure at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
A Lioness opens up her Christmas present in her enclosure at London Zoo, in London, Britain, December 14, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne
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