It has been twenty days now since a major fire destroyed the Wildlife Park in Mtahleb, and a magisterial inquiry is still ongoing to discover the cause of the flames. However, the park’s zookeeper has now debunked the original media story claiming the fire had been sparked by a gas cylinder which had blown up inside a kitchen.
“The fire was not caused by a gas leak,” Christopher Borg told Lovin Malta. “Gas cylinders did explode but this was because they had caught fire and not because they had caused the fire.”
Borg, who used to live in a house inside the zoo, said he had woken up at around 5am when the lights inside his house started flickering on and off due to a short circuit. He went outside to switch off the electricity and turn on the generator, when he saw a massive fire over the leopards’ enclosure.
“I rushed to the enclosure and used up six water extinguishers to try and put out the fire, but it was too huge and the leopards had already burned to death,” he said. “It soon spread throughout the zoo, burning my house and other enclosures.”
Borg refused to speculate on what could have caused the fire, but said there was nothing inside the leopards’ enclosure which could have set off the fire. He said there were no electricity wires inside the enclosure either, which could put to bed other reports that the fire was caused by a short circuit.
Lovin Malta has sent questions to the police, asking whether they have established what had caused the fire and whether they believe it was an accident or arson.
Apart from the leopards, called Ms Bagheera and Mr Buddy, some monkeys and birds also perished by suffocating in the smoke.
The tigers, lions and bears managed to survive – although the two bears, a male and a female, came very close to dying too.
“The fire was approaching the bears’ enclosures and they were hugging each other in a corner, but I managed to move them safely to a pond,” Borg said.
Borg has started a crowdfunding campaign, in which he is urging the public to donate small amounts of money to a newly set-up bank account, which is being administered by a notary, an accountant and the Wildlife Park’s vet. More details can be found on the Wildlife Park’s Facebook page.
He said he has received around €6500 so far, but has a long way to go as it will require hundreds of thousands of euro to rebuild the zoo.
“I want to be clear that the donations are purely to rebuild the zoo for the sake of the animals, and not to rebuild my own house,” Borg said. “I’ll rebuild my house myself and I’m not interested in charity, only in re-opening the Wildlife Park. I’m one hundred percent sure I’ll rebuild it, and the only thing I’m unsure of so far is when that will be.”
Borg had words of praise for parliamentary secretary Deo Debattista, who is politically responsible for the Cleansing Directorate.
“He was the only person in Cabinet who helped me out and he did so with no questions asked. He sent his men to clean up the debris as soon as I asked, and they did a great job.”