Animals suffer and are as afraid of war as humans. Mykolayiv Zoo, which journalist Оleksii Platonov visited on 9 May, is one of the best in Ukraine. The director of the zoo spoke about how the zoo copes with the hostilities and no public, even though you can buy virtual tickets online to support their difficult task.
The history of the zoo begins in 1901 with the then-mayor's private collection of animals, making it one of the oldest zoos in Ukraine, after Kharkiv. Located in an area of about 20 hectares, the zoo has 79 species of rare mammals, 103 unique species of wild birds, and 35 species of unusual reptiles.
“Animals live the same way as humans, we are one family here, so we have similar problems. However, the animals have not been able to leave yet, although several employees have already been evacuated,” says director Volodymyr Topchy.
The zoo has been living at war for two months now. With no visitors and reduced public transport, the work schedule has changed so the animals can be cared for and allow staff to get home on time.
“We have also established contacts with volunteers and the city supports us very well. In addition to the townspeople, European zoos help us financially, and with food. We cannot say that there is a big problem with the supply of fodder, though of course, some fodder is missing due to the fact that the people who had the tender found themselves in the occupied territories. Yes, we have a problem with frozen fish, with eggs. Now we will announce a new tender, maybe someone else will come and work with us,” says Topchy.
It is difficult now due to the partial lack of a water supply, (ruined during heavy fighting by Russian troops in the neighbouring Kherson region). The city water supply system can help from central sources, but this is not enough for the zoo’s needs. The zoo may be closed but virtual tickets can still be bought online by anyone wanting to make a donation.
“This action received a great response, so we are not asking for funds from the city budget. As a result, we were able to repay outstanding bills and salaries, which were large sums. But we need money all the time.
If anyone can help, please buy a ticket online on our website and support the zoo in difficult times.
Seven missiles actually hit the zoo. Thank God no one was hurt – neither animals nor humans. The rockets fell at night, we already have a whole collection of them.”
Volodymyr then says something surprising, but perhaps it’s testimony to the expertise and dedication of everyone working at the zoo.
“I can’t say that our animals are under stress, we try to protect them and keep them close inside when it is very loud outside, and they behave normally. Despite everything, they eat well, give birth and feed their babies. Just last weekend, new cubs were born; if their mother had been stressed, she would have refused to feed them. The same goes for our birds – they continue to actively lay eggs.”
Previously Mykolaiv zoo had good relations with the Moscow Zoo and other zoos in Russia, even in the midst of the Revolution of Dignity, Muscovites handed over a polar bear, named Marshmallow, in March 2014.
“In fact, we had good relations with so many of them, with the Moscow Zoo, Novosibirsk, Kaliningrad. I was friends with the director of the Moscow Zoo Spitsyn for over 40 years, but, unfortunately, he is no longer alive,” he says.
“With the beginning of the war, the Mykolayiv Zoo withdrew from the Eurasian Zoo Association, because no Russian zoo called or inquired about what was happening here. The positions of the Russian zoos is clear to us, they support their army, their government, so on 28 February we stopped all relations with them.”
In the meantime Mykolaiv zoo has twice received dry fodder from Europe sent by Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Lodz and many other cities. In addition, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums has opened an aid account worth more than one million euros. The funds are distributed among zoos in Ukraine, mostly in eastern Ukraine, where it was most difficult, especially Kharkiv, but also a zoo near Kyiv, Askania-Nova, (a Ukrainian nature reserve located in Kherson Oblast, and active member of the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme - ed.), which is under occupation and Berdyansk Zoo help us. We are in constant contact, only on Friday there was a meeting via Skype among the directors of Ukrainian zoos, we are discussing the issues we have.
Suddenly Volodymyr looked grim, and with a bite in his voice remembered colleagues who had lost their lives in the past three months:
“The names of the zoo workers who died because of the Russian invasion will forever be written in the history of zoos in Ukraine. They gave their lives saving animals, such as in the flattened Feldman Zoo in Kharkiv. Many zoos responded and rescued animals from it, but we could not take any, because we are on the front line. The Russian Orcs are 30 km away from us and we may have to evacuate the animals ourselves, although it would be incredibly difficult.”