Animal rights group PETA has urged potential customers to stop going to zoos after a fire killed dozens of animals in one yesterday.
Apes, monkeys, bats and birds were among the 30 deaths at Krefeld Zoo - north of Dusseldorf - after a blaze started at the ape house in the early hours of New Year’s Day.
Police believe it was caused by a sky lantern lit to celebrate the arrival of 2020.
Three women - a mother and her two daughters, aged between 30 and 60 - went to Krefeld police yesterday.
Prosecutor Jens Frobel said they are being investigated on suspicion of negligent arson.
PETA director Elisa Allen told Yahoo News UK: “Yet another zoo fire claims lives and shows that caging animals results in tragedy.
“No amount of time in a zoo can take away wild animals’ natural instincts to roam, search for food, care for their young, and, when a fire breaks out, flee – something that these monkeys were unable to do while locked in a cage.
“It's 2020, and the days of putting animals behind bars should be in the past.
“As long as people continue to pay to go through zoo gates, animals will continue to suffer – which is why everyone concerned about this incident can make a difference by refusing to patronise any zoo.”
Krefeld Zoo was contacted this morning for comment.
Krefeld’s criminal police chief Gerd Hoppmann said the three women are “completely normal people who seemed very sensible, very responsible” and said they were “very courageous” to come forward.
Police are limiting the details about the suspects because the women fear reprisals.
He said they had ordered five sky lanterns over the internet and the women had been unaware they were banned in Germany. The product description did not mention that, either.
Just one lantern is believed to have started the blaze. Four others were found with handwritten notes that had good wishes for 2020.
The ape house did not have fire detectors or sprinklers, which was not required when it was built in the 1970s.
The zoo has said it passed a regular fire protection check a few months ago.
While police believe the sky lantern caused the fire, investigators will look at what else could have contributed to the fire, which spread quickly.
This includes whether dry fallen leaves on the roof of the ape house were a factor.
Toy monkeys and candles were left outside the front of the zoo’s main entrance today.
Staff at the zoo are working through a “mourning process” following the animals’ deaths, zoo director Wolfgang Dressen said yesterday.
Animals including five orangutans, two gorillas, a chimpanzee and several monkeys, as well as birds and fruit bats, died.
The monkey house was completely gutted by the fire.
“This is an unfathomable tragedy,” Mr Dressen said yesterday.
Many of the dead animals were close to extinction in the wild, he added.
Police in Krefeld say witnesses saw paper lanterns with small fires inside in the night sky before the blaze started.
Some of the lanterns recovered had handwritten notes in. Sky lanterns are illegal in Krefeld and other parts of Germany.