Animals killed in Anderson County zoo fire

CLINTON, Tenn. (WATE) - The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency says several animals were killed in a fire Monday afternoon at the Little Ponderosa Zoo in Anderson County.

TWRA officials say the main barn and entrance to the zoo was destroyed in the fire. The barn housed around 200 animals and 75 percent were saved.

"[It was] terrifying going in there. You kind of freeze going into that barn on fire where all of your babies are. But you're fine.. it doesn't really cross your mind till after," said Caitlin Zaring, an intern zookeeper at the zoo. 

Zaring was working Monday afternoon when the fire started. She was one of six employees on the grounds at the time. She said they all ran towards the barn to bring as many animals as they could to safety. 

"I love them all. The thing is about it, we didn't save them all but we could've lost so many more." said James Cox, founder and director of the zoo. 

Cox says he's grateful that his employees were safe and knows they did everything they could to prevent the loss from being any worse. 

The fire was reported just after noon Monday. The zoo's manager said employees were working in the barn when the fire broke out. Zoo workers were able to rescue some of the animals to safety. In one instance, workers moved a camel through the flames out of the barn. 

The only animals killed that required a TWRA permit were two corn snakes. Eyewitnesses told the TWRA that two primates escaped the fire, but were recaptured and brought to safety, while all other animals held in the exhibit were killed.

Two adult tigers kept at Little Ponderosa were in their enclosure about 75 yards away. The tigers were not injured and their enclosure was not damaged.

Zoo officials say there are no animals at large.

The animals that survived are being treated for their injuries, including smoke inhalation.

Five volunteer fire departments responded to the blaze, as well as the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Mark Lucas, chief deputy with the Anderson County's Sheriff's Department, said some zoo workers suffered minor injuries as they worked to get animals out of the barn and were treated on the scene by paramedics. A firefighter was also taken to Methodist Medical Center in Oak Ridge for a minor injury he suffered.

Fire investigators are working to uncover the cause of the fire, which is believed to be accidental.

"This is a sad day, as the Little Ponderosa Zoo has been a part of our community for a long time and the owner, James Cox, has been a close friend for many years," Lucas said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to all at the Little Ponderosa."

The zoo posted on Facebook on Monday afternoon asking for prayers.

To make a monetary donation, you can visit the zoo's website

The zoo is also in need of numerous Items as they work to recover from the fire. These items include: 

  • Hay
  • Raw Meat (for tigers)
  • Eggs
  • Dry Cat/Dog food 
  • Wet Cat/Dog food 
  • Blankets 
  • Generator 
  • Buckets (to transport food) 
  • Animal cages 
  • Animal Dishes (for food)
  • Fruits/Vegetables 

The zoo, located in Clinton, is a nonprofit zoo and rescue facility for exotic animals. According to their Facebook page, they have rescued animals from across the United States.


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