Australian zoo boss takes animals, including a tiger, home to protect them from fires
World / 2 January 2020, 3:02pm / RICHARD SHEARS in Sydney
A zookeeper took some of his animals home as the Australian bushfires neared – housing a tiger in his garden and monkeys in his house.
With the flames now visible from space, the death toll climbed to at least 18 last night, with others missing.
Meanwhile, pleas were issued to tourists to cancel their holidays and flee affected areas.
But amid the chaos, Mogo Zoo boss Chad Staples had kept all his 200 animals safe.
Many of the creatures were sheltered at the site in New South Wales, which boasts Australia’s largest collection of primates, along with zebras, rhinos and giraffes.
However, Mr Staples said the situation had been ‘apocalyptic’ and that it ‘felt like Armageddon’, so he took those that needed extra care into his own home.
‘Right now in my house there’s animals of all descriptions in all the different rooms, that are there safe and protected... not a single animal lost,’ he told broadcaster ABC.
Sara Ang, from the wildlife park, told BBC 5 Live that ‘some of the smaller monkeys had to be moved to the house, the red panda is in the house and there’s a tiger in the back area of the house’.
Mr Staples added: ‘Everything else... it was safer to protect them where they call home.
‘What we did with the dangerous animals – lions, tigers, orangutans – is encourage them to the night den, kept them calm, like nothing was happening, and we were able to protect them at that site. The only animals that saw any sort of signs of stress were the giraffes and zebra, but that was more to do with the activity of keepers being all hands on deck.
‘We were moving vehicles around that had huge amounts of water and pumps and things on them to get to spot fires.’
Elsewhere, heartbroken residents in the south-east corner of Australia returned to stare in horror at the remains of their homes.
Officials were shocked to learn that determined holidaymakers were ignoring warnings to stay away from the area because they said they had made accommodation bookings. One man was even reported to have made an official complaint after police ordered him to turn back from a road threatened by fire.
New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance, speaking yesterday from the stricken area with his face streaked by ash, told tourists: ‘Just get out of here.’
He warned: ‘Yesterday morning the fire moved at a pace no one expected … people just have to leave. The tourists – just get out of here before the weekend. The trees are coming down like there’s no tomorrow and I’ve got a photo of someone who drove under a tree and they’re lucky to be alive because it’s come down on their boot.’ As shocked homeowners who were able to return to their towns and villages wept at the sight of their lost houses, New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was consumed by a ‘feeling of helplessness’ after seeing the destruction.
‘It’s very difficult to console people when they’ve lost everything,’ she said. ‘We’re assuming that on Saturday, weather conditions will be at least as bad as yesterday. That is something all of us have to brace ourselves for.’
Seven more people were confirmed dead yesterday and four others remained missing, after victims either died in homes they tried to defend, or in vehicles as they attempted to drive away from the inferno.
But in one incredible escape, four firefighting crews – 16 men – survived after being engulfed by flames as they drove their trucks near the town of Nowra. Deputy captain Jasper Croft said later: ‘Everything was alight, both sides of the truck, the top, everything. It was like being in an oven.’
Meanwhile, those unable to leave the safety of beaches yesterday were helped by Australian Defence Force members and police in helicopters and ships, either flying them clear, taking them on to craft or dropping water and food.