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Hollywild Animal Park staff is mourning the loss of 28 furry friends as a result of an electrical fire in the Primate Barn on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015. The non-profit animal park, located in Wellford, S.C., posted a statement to their Facebook page pleading for kindness and support while their team sorts out the details and grieves the demise of the animals they considered family. Fire officials confirmed that the fire was accidental and not the result of gross neglect, although it is a tragedy for the Hollywild facility, already beleaguered by accusations of inadequate facilities. Many supporters have offered their condolences, pouring out care and concern on the devastated staff for which the park’s team is very grateful.
Hollywild animal care worker, Jay Gossett arrived at the park for work on Friday around 8:30 a.m. to discover a smoke-filled Primate Barn. He acted quickly in ventilating the barn by opening doors and calling for fire crews and veterinarians to help the trapped animals and provide for their care. His supervisor, Richie Sanders praises his expeditious response, calling him a hero and crediting him with saving the lives of many other animals. Twenty-eight animals succumbed to smoke inhalation while 14 survivors were treated for smoke inhalation. Although devastated by the mournful losses, Hollywild’s veterinarian, Dr. Beverly Hargus does not feel that any of the animals are currently suffering and assured the public that none of the animals received burns.
Fire investigators have determined that an electrical short in a light fixture in the Primate Barn caused the fire. The conflagration rolled up into the ceiling and spread throughout the building causing it to fill with smoke before dying a natural death. However, Brent Blackwell, the Holly Springs Fire Chief reports that hot spots still remained when fire crews arrived on the scene. He acknowledges that the loss of life is tragic and considers it fortunate that they were able to contain the fire and prevent further deaths. Blackwell agrees with Hargus that this kind of fire can happen anywhere.
Upon assessing the damage, Hollywild staff found that the 28 casualties included a barn cat, a quartet of wolf hybrid pups, a bear cub and an African-crowned crane; a pair of capuchin monkeys, baboons and mangabeys; three tortoises and eight lemurs. The remaining 14 animals include a wallaroo, a dog, a ring-tailed lemur; two baboons, yearling bear cubs and wolf hybrid puppies; and five tortoises. David Meeks, executive director of the Hollywild Animal Park describes the staff as “heartsick” over the tragedy and acknowledges that the thousands of people who have visited the park and made personal connections to the animals will also undoubtedly be mourning the calamity and feeling the loss with them.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took the opportunity to remind people of ongoing complaints about the state of the Hollywild facilities and the alleged neglect of the animals care; and to call for federal animal protection authorities to rescind the park’s license in order to prevent further deaths. However, many Facebook comments in response to Hollywild’s statement about the catastrophic fire express only sympathy and understanding. Several appear to have personal knowledge of the park and its staff, attesting to their dedication to the animals’ well-being and determination to provide the best possible care for the abused and rescued animals who come under their protection.
One Hollywild Facebook ally, Melanie Reynolds, an animal keeper herself, sums up the need for compassion over judgment in the wake of this heartbreaking loss and mourning by reminding people that those who pour their lives into caring for animals do not need outside critics telling them what they did wrong or what they should have done better. She points out that the Hollywild keepers will already be retracing every “would have, could have, should have” step from before the accident to ensure that it never happens again. Therefore, she calls for the kindness, prayers and understanding that the Hollywild park staff is requesting as the only decent and humane response to the grief they are experiencing in the loss of their 28 well-loved furry family members.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of Ted – Flickr License