The four meerkats presumed to have died after a fire broke out at London Zoo were brothers.

In a statement, Dominic Jermey, director general for the Zoological Society of London, said they were called Robbie, Norman, Billy and Nigel.

Misha, a nine-year-old aardvark, also perished in the blaze.

An initial post-mortem showed she most likely died from smoke inhalation whilst sleeping.

Mr Jermey said: “We’ve been overwhelmed by the hundreds of emails, phone calls and letters of support from all over the country – these kind and generous messages range from families offering to give up their Christmas Day to help us clean up, to offers from local builders to rebuild the enclosures for us.

“On a desperately tough day, it was a wonderful reminder of the place the zoo holds in the hearts and minds of so many. Thank you to everyone who cares for London Zoo as much as we do.”

The fire broke out at approximately 6am on Saturday in the Animal Adventure section of the zoo, destroying the cafe, shop and around half the adjacent petting zoo, London Fire Brigade said.

The zoo was closed for the day, leaving families who had tickets for the Meet Santa experience unable to attend.

On Twitter the zoo told visitors who had booked to enter Santa’s grotto that they would be offered a refund.

The world-famous attraction reopened to visitors on Christmas Eve.

Keepers who live on site were on the scene immediately after the fire broke out on Saturday and started moving animals to safety.

Some staff were treated for smoke inhalation and shock at the scene, and one firefighter was taken to hospital as a precaution after suffering a minor wrist injury.

Firefighters at a cafe and shop near the meerkat enclosure at London Zoo
Firefighters at a cafe and shop near the meerkat enclosure at London Zoo (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

More than 70 firefighters attended the incident, which was brought under control by 9.16am.

London Fire Brigade station manager David George said it was not currently known what caused the fire.

He told the Press Association: “Our specialist fire investigation teams will be searching through the debris and looking and seeing if they can establish a likely cause for the fire.”