It’s not just Ukraine’s human inhabitants who are suffering from the violence being brought to their country by Vladimir Putin’s reprehensible invasion of Russia’s neighbor, Ukraine. According to a report in The Washington Post, the animals at the Kyiv Zoo are being horribly stressed out by the air raid sirens, gunfire, and explosions that have suddenly become part of daily life in Ukraine’s capital city.
“Horace the Asian elephant is so terrified of explosions that he’s been put on sedatives. The zebras are being kept inside after they panicked at the sound of shelling and ran directly into a fence. And Maya the lemur is so overwhelmed that she abandoned her newborn baby this week — nearly killing him,” Siobhán O’Grady and Kostiantyn Khudov report today in their Washington Post article.
The animals in Kyiv’s zoological park are at risk of becoming collateral damage in the internationally-condemned incursion by Russia into the country where they currently reside in a facility unfortunately situated near a crucial Ukrainian military installation and potentially in the path of the invading Russian troops.
Employees of the zoo are doing their best to try to keep the animals calm in the impossible circumstances in which they now find themselves. “Around 50 staff members” and their families have moved into the zoo to offer 24-hour-a-day care for the animals on exhibit.
While they can offer shelter to some of the creatures in their keep in the makeshift bomb shelters they’ve fashioned out of a birdhouse and an unfinished building meant to eventually become an aquarium, the largest animals in their care, the elephants and giraffes are too big to be moved and are cowering in their enclosures.
Kyrylo Trantin, the 49-year-old director of the Kyiv Zoo, painted a bleak picture of the situation.
“They have no space to hide or run,” Trantin told the Post. “Once they’re out of the zoo, they have fewer options than any human. It’s going to be the streets with tanks.”
As bad as things are in the Kyiv Zoo, they are even worse at the Feldman Ecopark zoo in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
A post from that zoo on Facebook revealed that:
“Some animals were injured, some were killed. Fighting is still going on in the Feldman Ecopark area, so, unfortunately, the losses are not final yet.”
Back in Kyiv, the planning for war thankfully began early with Trantin making sure to stock up on food supplies for the animals and construction materials to help rebuild any enclosures that might be damaged by warfare.
As early as February 25th, “there was fighting near the zoo and bullets were flying over us,” the zoo director related.
The tales of how the zoo’s staff are trying to calm the animals are particularly poignant. Trantin described how Horace the Asian elephant who is sensitive to loud noises with his huge ears deals with the enormous creature’s anxiety.
“So a staff member moves into the 17-year-old elephant’s enclosure with him each night, sleeping beside him to comfort him from any loud bangs. When he wakes up in distress, they feed him apples and chat to him until they sense he’s relaxed,” The Washington Post reports.
“If a rocket or shell lands, they know how to calm him down,” Trantin said.
“On Friday, he stroked Horace’s big gray cheek and dumped a pile of hay on the ground for him to snarf up with his trunk. He eats around 220 pounds of food a day. For now, the zoo has enough supplies in stock for around two weeks and hopes to be able to keep up a steady stream from their suppliers.”
After the two weeks are up, the future is uncertain. Supply routes could be cut off by the fighting and, despite the zoo’s employees starting a garden to produce greens for the animals to eat, it’s unlikely that it will provide enough food to keep the animals from starving.
Animals in Ukrainian zoos, it turns out, are as much of victims of Vladimir Putin’s evil intentions as the humans who surround them.
Let’s hope that this immoral and illegal war is ended before Ukraine’s human and animal populations suffer much more than they already have.