Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Troubled Times in Kiev Zoo

Tight Times in Ukraine Means Cramped Quarters for Its Zoo Animals

Tatyana Shvets strode through the Kiev Zoo recently as if it were her own backyard, feeding scraps of bread to the bison (“Hello, my dears!”), cooing to the storks (“Oh, you must be cold!”) and lavishing love upon every creature in sight, as she has since she first visited as a child half a century ago.

But often enough, her glee turned to dismay.

The camels’ corral was a mess, she insisted. The elephant was scrawny. The hippopotamus seemed depressed. And the monkeys’ cramped accommodations?

“God, what a nightmare,” she said.

Ms. Shvets chased after and berated zoo workers, making mental notes about complaints that she would send to the zoo’s management. There was a lot to write up.

The Kiev Zoo, it seems, has seen better days. Ukraine’s government is in disarray and the political discord has been unrelenting — and, yes, now even the lions and tigers and bears have been drawn in.

The zoo was expelled from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria in 2007 over poor conditions and mistreatment of animals. Advocates and former workers maintained that a giraffe and other animals died from the zoo’s ineptitude, and that money was siphoned from the zoo’s budget through corrupt schemes.

The zoo’s director was dismissed last year by Kiev’s eccentric mayor, Leonid M. Chernovetsky, after failing to find a mate for an elephant — or so Mr. Chernovetsky said. The new director has stirred an uproar among the staff for her supposedly tyrannical ways, and in October, a brawl erupted among workers during a celebration of the zoo’s centennial.

Lately, animal rights advocates, including Ms. Shvets, have contended that the zoo’s distress has been orchestrated by top city officials who want to sell the zoo’s choice urban real estate to developers and move the animals to the suburbs. The advocates call the strategy, “No animal, no problem,” a play on Stalin’s infamous saying, “No person, no problem.”

“This is being done so there are less and less animals, and they can make money from the land,” said Ms. Shvets, 60, a retired government worker. “The authorities in Kiev these days, all they care about is money.”

The troubles are not always immediately obvious. During a walk around the zoo on a Saturday morning, the place seemed more shabby than squalid, as if it once aspired to great-zoo status but had fallen on hard times for lack of money and attention.

Still, advocates said the worst conditions were obscured behind closed doors, and they have circulated photographs

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