While eager to restore his animal park to its former state after a fierce fire destroyed it this week, owner Chris Borg has yet to come to terms with the loss of some of his beloved exotic animals.

“I have a very big family and at a point I had to give support to my son and daughter, reassuring them that this was not the end of the world.”

“But deep down I knew that other members of my family were burning,” Mr Borg said fighting back tears.

The park owner spoke to the Times of Malta yesterday, just days after a major fire broke out at the Mtaħleb park, destroying his family home as well as the space housing the animals. Two leopards, a lemur, an emu and a number of monkeys and birds were killed as the blaze, reported on Tuesday just before dawn, spread.

It took firefighters some three hours to bring the fire under control. According to initial reports, the blaze was sparked by a gas cylinder which appears to have blown up.

Mr Borg, his wife and two children were asleep when the fire broke out, and managed to make it out of the house safely, only receiving treatment for shock.

Among them was the zoo-keeper’s favourite, a leopard he nicknamed Buddy, as he considered him “one of the family”.

“When we first brought Buddy here we were told that he was an aggressive animal, but as soon as he arrived here, he seemed to calm down. He became just like a pet dog,” Mr Borg said, recalling how he regularly spent time with the leopard in its cage.

While he and his family initially attempted to extinguish the fire, they could do very little to save the exotic animals, as the fire was spreading rapidly, forcing them to stand outside the park as it turned to ashes.

Expressing gratitude to the firefighters and police who were deployed to the site, Mr Borg was critical, however, of the time it took for the fire engines to arrive.

“It took them some 45 minutes, even though we called more than once to explain that the fire was spreading very quickly.

“Then when they did arrive, the fire engines did not have enough water. We’re grateful for the help, but you would think that at 5am, it shouldn’t take that long,” Mr Borg argued.

The zookeeper also appealed for help to rebuild the park, insisting that while he was appreciative of all the clothes being donated, it was the park that needed attention urgently.

At present, the surviving animals are being housed at a safe location, and according to Mr Borg, none of them had suffered any injuries.

A magisterial inquiry regarding the fire is under way.

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