Staff ‘devastated’ after fire kills 10 animals at African Safari Wildlife Park in northern Ohio

(Aaron DiBucci/WTOL)
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PORT CLINTON, Ohio (WKYC) — The Thanksgiving fire that claimed the lives of 10 animals at the African Safari Wildlife Park in Port Clinton does not appear to be suspicious or criminal, authorities announced Friday.

Investigators anticipate it could take "several weeks" before the cause of the fire is determined.

The animals that died in the blaze are four antelopes, three giraffes and three Red River hogs. One of the giraffes was as young as 1-1/2 years old. Keepers were hoping one of the antelopes would have a baby in the spring of 2020.

The park provided a list of the animals that died:

1. Giraffe, Waylon, 3 years, a resident since 2017
2. Giraffe, Quinn, 1.5 years, a resident since June 2019
3. Giraffe, Beltre, 2.5 years old, who arrived this week
4. Red River Hog -Merlin, 9 years, resident since 2012
5 & 6. Two Red River hog sisters, 7 years, that arrived at the park this week. Named RJ and Priscilla, they were to join Merlin in the new red river hog exhibit constructed this year.
7. Springbok, Chip, 9 years, lived at African Safari for 7 years 8. Bongo, Tank, 15 years, lived at the park since 2006. A staff favorite, he always greeted keepers at the door for head scratches.
9. Bongo, Diesel, 10 years, resident since 2010
10. Bongo, Binti, 5 years, resident for 4 years. Keepers were hoping she would have a baby in early spring 2020.

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A zebra that was in the overhang on the outside of the barn was able to get out harm's way as the fire spread. A giraffe in a neighboring barn was let out in case that structure also caught fire. Park employees have put the animal back in its enclosure.

Holly Hunt, one of the park's co-owners spoke with the media Friday afternoon:

“Recovery is beginning from this devastating event. Our team members are here caring for each other and the animals. Our community has been incredibly supportive in reaching out to us. This fire killed 10 animals. The staff today are working to care for the animals frightened by the fire and caring for each other. We are so grateful for our community and first responders to help us through this terrible event. Thousands of people have reached out to us to offer their condolences and support. Despite being so sad about this, our team is here today caring for more than 400 other animals living at the park. Thankfully, they are all safe. We are providing grief counseling to our team members who are heartbroken by this loss.”

She said the barn where the flames ignited was built in the 1980s and did not have a fire suppression system.

“The fire was traumatic for everyone, particularly for those animals closest to the flames. They’re under the care of our veterinarians who were at the park throughout the night.”

Hunt offered her gratitude to everybody who has shown their support.

"Our African Safari Wildlife Park team is devastated by the loss of animals housed in a barn destroyed by fire that was discovered early Thanksgiving evening," the park wrote in a post on Facebook. "We are grateful that our staff is safe and no one was injured, but the loss of the wildlife that we care for every day is tragic for our team members who love these animals. The animals lost in this tragedy were part of our African Safari family, and the Park will be closed on Friday as we mourn their loss and care for the other animals living on the 100-area Park."

"We’ve owned this park forever. We inspect and take care of these animals every day, all day long," said Hunt. "We just inspected it, we did a morning check and a night check."

The park opened in 1969 and the Hunt family has owned the popular attraction since 1974. African Safari Wildlife Park is home to about 300 animals including deer, bison, elk, llama, alpaca, camels and zebras.

"We are devastated," Hunt added. "I mean, our team, they work so hard to care for these animals and it’s just…just gut wrenching that this could happen. Our team works so hard every day to care for these animals and it’s just heartbreaking."

According to a dispatcher from the Ottawa County Sheriff's Office, the first call of the fire came in at 6:15 p.m.

Fire officials speculate that the explosions could have been caused by propane tanks, which were stored in the barn. The barn is heated during the cold weather months.

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