The zoo operates as a sanctuary for exotic and non-releasable state wildlife.
WINDER, Ga. — Several animals at a Winder zoo were killed after one of their buildings caught on fire Monday night.
The Hand Me Down Zoo, a sanctuary for exotic and non-releasable state wildlife closed its doors at 8 p.m. Monday, and by 10 p.m. one of its buildings was engulfed in flames.
Kerry Ervin, the zoo’s owner, said 52 animals were lost in the fire, most of them were reptiles and birds that lived in the building.
The fire’s point of origin was determined to be a mini-split AC unit on the main level of the building, according to a fire marshal at the Barrow Fire Department.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday Ervin shared her appreciation for the Barrow Fire Department for helping save the animals.
“It was very impressive seeing these guys picking up porcupines and other less than friendly animals with no concern to their individual safety,” the post said.
Although the first responders were quick to arrive at the fire, it was “too intense” and despite their efforts, many species were lost. Ervin said that fire crews stopped her from entering the burning building.
“I would have lost my life in that building if they had not stopped me. I would not have thought twice about it. That’s how much they mean to me,” she said.
The Florida native first opened the zoo in 2015 as a silent sanctuary for legal pets in Georgia. Her vision was to provide a place where people could come and see how pets such as guinea pigs, rabbits and reptiles should be taken care of.
In 2019, the silent sanctuary began taking in exotic animals and state wildlife.
“We got licensed through DNR and USDA at that point to be able to take in everything from zebras to kangaroos, deer, raccoons, foxes. So our job now is to facilitate a place for animals to go,” said Ervin.
The sanctuary is a place where most of these animals considered illegal in Georgia can stay permanently instead of being euthanized.
Ervin explains that the zoo’s insurance will not cover the damages in the building since the structure is being considered a business.
“We will have to be able to do this on our own,” she said.
She is asking the public for time and help as they try to decide how to plan the rebuild process.
“We do have a lot of people reaching out wanting to help. If we have individuals out there that can donate time, labor, materials that cost or even donate financial means, we’re more than glad to have that,” said Ervin. “We do need a little bit of time to figure it out and make sure that we know what we need and when we need it and how we need it.”
Their online fundraiser showed that $2,620 has been raised as of Thursday morning. The fundraiser’s goal is $75,000.
Before the fire, the zoo was available to the public on an appointment-only basis. Now, Ervin said that they hope to open their safari area soon while they keep the damaged building closed for the rebuild.
“We do hope to open up at least the safari area that has not been affected by the fire. Unfortunately, our private encounter tour in our main building will probably be shut down for a good while,” she said.