by Julia Leibetseder & Daria Malitskaya

Where is the lion king's palace?

About the bad situation for animals in the Leningrad Zoo
They are laying absolutely quietely on the gray asphalt.They seem to be asleep. Just for a few brief moments one of them opens the eyes to a small slit. Nothing seems to bother their stoicism. Not even the visitors, who wonder loudly about their unusual color. Because the two polar bears in this compound are not white , as most of their fellows , they seem rather beige, almost yellowish. Not in a way of dirty, more like yellowish in an unhealthy way . The tipical setting is missing: No ice , no snow, no crystal blue water. Gray asphalt, a dark green pool full of algae and old plastic canisters. Antarctica seems to look different. Also happy polar bears look different. Maybe they just close their eyes, because sleeping seems to be the best alternative in this compound.

The two polar bears are the star turns of the zoo in Saint Petersburg. This is hardly surprising, because they are also the logo of the zoo. In 1865 the animal park was established in the city center. It is the oldest zoo in Russia. While it has even survived wars in its 150 year of history, there came up some speculations about to close the zoo in recent years. The animal's living conditions seemed to bad, the renovation of the old zoo would be too expensive and there is too little space in the center of the 5 million metropolis.

Finally the relocation of the Leningrad Zoo was planned. On the outskirts, surrounded by nature shall arise one of the most modern zoos. The project was handed over to French experts. The government of St. Petersburg wanted to invest many millions of rubles in this prestigious project. But more than great photo montages of how the zoo should look like, never exists. And so the dream of an animal-friendly and modern zoo finally end in 2005, when the city administration announced "We get a new zoo, when we are rich".

Instead they promised to spend 100 million rubles a year to renovate the old zoo. With moderate success.
I do not believe that my children will see the new zoo. I hope that at least my grandchildren will see it.
Ekaterina Kolgushkina
Head of the Public Relations Department
of the Leningrad Zoo
The zoo itself understands its problems and tries to find convinient solutions. Ekaterina Kolgushkina, the zoo's Head of Public Relations , thinks that the most serious issue is the effective administration of the limited space: "We are trying to solve the problem by increasing the cages but, unfortunately, it meens that our collection is redusing, - she sais, - The trouble is that the main part of serious decions is dacided by the administration of St. Petersburg, but not by the zoo. For example, Leningrad Zoo does not have the right to build something on its territory without the permition of city-administration, it is only able to renovate something. We repair old buildings quite often, but they soon fall apart again".

Like all zoos around the world Leningrad Zoo has also financial problems: "We are not a governmental organization. Institution, like us, only get 30% paid by the state, the rest we earn ourselves. Considered the fact that we are nearly self-financed, we treat our animals really well. They eat very well. We always order best quality products.

Right next to the polar bear is the cage for big cats . One beside the other. Like in small cells. They have almost as much privacy as in one of the famous Russian Komunalkas . A tremendous stench greets the visitor as soon as he stands in front of the kennel. Not like animals are smelling , rather a mixture of decay , urine and moisture. The outdoor cages for every big cat are approx 10m2. A black panther is walking in a circle, while its neighbor, a lion preferes to move between indoor and outdoor. So it can make 10 steps, instead of only 5. The cat between the two of them seems to have already accepted its fate - it is laying quietly on the gray asphalt , staring at the painted fir trees on the walls.

The black panther going from the right to the left in its small cage
I have not heard anything bad about the situation in the Leningrad Zoo. In each city, the conditions of detention may be different. The problem is that there is no special law or mandatory standards for construction of cages and enclosures. It all depends on the financial capacity and the size of the zoo-territory.[...]
Russia really needs a special law for zoos. It would be easier to monitor the fulfillment of all conditions and to prosecute violators.
Natalja Dronova
project coordinator for the species conservation in WWF
Again and again zoos in general become a topic of public discussion. Is it justified to detain animals just for exhibition purposes? There are a lot of different opionions according to this topic. But in one point, all parties will agree: If we hold animals in cages, then in the best conditions: As closely to the nature enviroment as possible , with enough freedom of movement. Of course,the wild savanna or a snow-covered mountain can not get replaced by a cage, but at least we should be able to guarantee a pleasant life for every zooanimal.

Although today is Tuesday, and even it is in the morning, quite a lot of visitors are walking in the zoo. Many of them are children. Two boys are running around. They are excidet to see the lion. A 3 - year-old girl is facing the eagle cage with her mother. She is scared and seems to try to hold back the tears. Eagles do not seem to be her favorite animals.

Also in the faces of the adults you can see different emotions . While no one is struggling with tears, some of them seems to feel affected by the poor living conditions of the animals. While other visitors have a broad and happy grin in their faces.

It's quite easy to blame the zoo or the St. Petersburg's government for the poor living conditions of the animals, but the real problem is much more deeper. There are still no fixed international animal rights, similar to human rights. Although these rights are vitally important for creatures who can't speak by themselves. There is a project of law in Russia against private zoos, but really nothing about zoos in common and about standarts.

While the European Union has a binding directive which guarantees a minimum standard for the zoos of all EU Member States since 1999, there are no similar documents in Russia. Instead in the country acts such supervisory organization as ERAZA (Euro-Asian Regional Association of Zoos and Aquariums). But although some standards are fixed, it has no liability. Non-compliance threatens only a departure from the organization. So, the Leningrad Zoo was kicked out from ERAZA in 2003. Of course, an expulsion was associated with a loss of image. Therefore the zoo of Saint Petersburg really wanted to retrieve its status, which lasts 5 years under normal circumstances in which the standards should be achieved with the help ERAZAs. For Saint Petersburg this time apparently was not enough.

The lion, the animals' king, is still going around in a circuit. Again and again. From the right to the left. It seems to be depressed, but still it hasn't lost its majestic appearance . Sometimes it abruptly stops for a few moments. Then it looks wistfully through the rusty bars, like it would be wondering if it will ever have the chance to move, to run, to live in a place adapted to its natural needs.

Project of the Workshop Sustainable development and global problems at the State University of Saint Petersburg in cooperation with Friedricht Ebert Stiftung.
Made on