Kazan zoo resumes struggle for elephants, rhinos and five-metre giraffes

Kazan Zoo has turned out to be the only one among Russian zoos that did not close for a long quarantine, but lost state support

Kazan zoo resumes struggle for elephants, rhinos and five-metre giraffes
Photo: Ilya Repin

Teasing a chimpanzee, looking into the mouth of an African lion, stroking the ears of fluffy rabbits — communication with animals in a zoo helps a child to cope with strong emotional experiences and overcome fears. This is stated by psychologist-conflictologist of the Kazan Federal University Yevgenia Khramova. With the onset of summer heat, one can see them firsthand: African animals are released into the open air and freely walk around the fenced enclosure in the Kazan zoo Zambezi River. However, due to the pandemic, a herd of five five-metre giraffes, four white elephants, and a married pair of black rhinos couldn't be brought there. The African safari of the Kazan Zoo is still filled with only 64 per cent of the planned animal species, but they can also be watched for hours.

Petting a lion?

“The best defense against childhood fears is to pet a lion," jokes Yevgenia Khramova, a conflict psychologist at the Kazan Federal University. “But seriously, every child secretly dreams of playing with a lion, putting an arm around a pony's neck, or running a race with an ostrich. Certainly, it is prohibited to enter the cage to the predator, but one can watch them from special bridges, take pictures from afar. This will leave a vivid impression on the child, help to forget grievances, and survive stressful moments.

According to the psychologist, when observing animals, the activity of prefrontal cortex of large hemispheres of brain increases — this area is involved in decision-making and is responsible for social interaction.

“When in contact with animals, the child's level of anxiety decreases, there is an interest in wildlife and communication, and the mood improves. Now many children are passionate about gadgets, go into the virtual world. The contact with animals helps them get back to reality," she says. “In general, the child will be happy everywhere, where his parents are around. And if you take them to the zoo, they will have twice as much fun.”

Resetting the attendance ratings

The Kazan Zoo is not yet in the top 5 most visited zoos in Russia, according to data from the ministry of culture of Russia (data is available only for 2019). Before the pandemic, interest grew steadily by an average of 7 per cent, but sanitary restrictions brought the statistics down to a minimum.

Although, as deputy director Alexander Malev told Realnoe Vremya, the zoo in Kazan was the only one in Russia that was not closed for a long quarantine. However, they, like the rest, had to go through complete self-isolation (from the end of March to May 2020). But since then, they have continued to work continuously — while colleagues were idle. Despite that mass excursions are still prohibited. According to the zoo's specialists, they are allowed to be held in groups of no more than five people.

“We are not planning mass activities so far: on May 9, we held a Soldier's Kitchen and then allowed to walk in small groups, although the territory of the zoo itself is huge.”

So the attendance ratings of Russian zoos have been shelved for the time being.

To date, both territories of the zoo are open. The new Zambezi River Zoo has a collection of African animals. For example, there is a Nile crocodile, six “well-behaved boys” — chimpanzees, which were brought from a zoo in Germany, four cheetahs, wildebeest, ostriches... On the “old” territory of the zoo, there live peacocks, white and brown bears, lynx, raccoons, and exotic animals and birds. The total number of animal species that you can admire here is 86.

New Zambezi River Zoo has a collection of African animals. Photo: Ilya Repin

African savanna is 64 per cent full

The African safari of the Kazan Zoo is still 64 per cent full of animal species. These are 36 species: hamadryas, ostriches, panther turtles, Brazza monkeys, meerkats, damans, dik-diks, lions, blue wildebeest, chimpanzees, Kaffir crows, Nile crocodiles, black crowned cranes, and others. For competent work with elephants and man apes, the specialists of the zoo were trained in European zoos and in Moscow.

“When selecting the species composition, we relied on the experience of the world's leading zoos and chose the animals of the African continent based on their appearance: large exotic animals (elephants, giraffes, rhinos, gorillas, chimpanzees, lions, cheetahs, etc.) are of particular interest to the public and attract more visitors," said the press service of the zoo. “Besides, we want to import some species of animals that are not represented in any of the Russian zoos: for example, African elephants and black rhinos.

African safari of the Kazan Zoo is still 64 per cent full of animal species. Photo: Ilya Repin

EAZA does not allow a herd of giraffes to Kazan

“Now on the agenda — getting giraffes," said the deputy director of the Kazan zoo, Alexander Malev. “The European Association of Zoos and Aquariums is ready to donate exotic animals to the Kazan Zoo, but with the guarantee of providing them with comfortable and safe living conditions. We are talking about the arrival of a whole family of five giraffes at once. These are rare animals, so the EAZA advises creating conditions for their reproduction. Besides, it is no longer customary to send animals to zoos alone. They are bored, afraid of loneliness, and do not adapt well to a new place. They may develop severe stress. Since recently, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums has started sending animals in at least pairs. For example, we expect black rhinos to arrive as a married couple — a male and a female. And the relocation of four African elephants is also under discussion.”

Due to the pandemic, negotiations with the EAZA regarding the relocation of giraffes were greatly stretched in time.

“Initially, we planned to bring them to the beginning of the summer season, but coronavirus restrictions complicated the negotiations. European inspectors impose strict requirements on the conditions of their environment. We follow them exactly. In confirmation, we regularly send photos from the site of the reconstruction of the aviary, after which we receive new comments from the inspectors — and again send photos with corrections... The negotiations have been going on for more than six months. We cannot get a permit for their transportation, and during the pandemic, the board of EAZA inspectors could not meet and postponed making a decision. Besides, many European cities continue to remain closed, from whose zoos a family of giraffes can be given. Until we fulfill the comments on the arrangement of the enclosure for giraffes, the EAZA commission will not give permission. It is still unclear from which European zoo the giraffes will be brought," Malev said.

Not only giraffes, but also gorillas, big-eared foxes, and lemurs will be transferred to the zoo upon the recommendations of the coordinators — and also only after they are provided with ready-made enclosures for approval. Full filling of the enclosures, unfortunately, will be possible at best only at the end of 2021. The Kazan Zoo is not a priority for the European Association, as the international organisation reserves priority for zoos in Europe.

Animals in open area

With the onset of summer heat, the African animals have been released into the open air.

For example, the zoo's specialists told Realnoe Vremya that the mating season of peacocks has begun. They spread their amazing tails and can even fly out of the zoo — it turns out that the birds are let to fly. They always come back because they know where they are fed.

Wildebeest and ostriches walk on the same large area, but at different times: in the morning — antelopes, in the afternoon — ostriches, so visitors are advised to adjust the time of the visit to the animals they want to see. The thing is that, despite the large aviary, the wildebeest and ostriches do not really get along in it — the antelopes want to play and chase the birds, and they are outraged and sometimes even injured.

But our closest relatives — chimpanzees — do not go out on the street yet and remain behind the glass. The thing is that they did not have time to prepare a playground that meets all the requirements of the EAZA inspectors (yes, they check not only the living space of animals, but also, so to speak, the house territory).

As for the old zoo, where the beloved bears and other animals of our strip remain, we have already approved a project for the reconstruction of the existing territory. The main part will be occupied by three expositions of animals living in different regions of Russia (the zones will be called Lake Baikal, Ussuri River, Wrangel Island). The old cages will be completely dismantled, and in their place, it is planned to build modern aviaries equipped according to international standards. However, no one calls the terms — we can only wait...

Main part of the old zoo will be occupied by three expositions of animals living in different regions of Russia. Photo: Ilya Repin

Wrong OKVED

Despite that zoos were included in the state list of industries affected by the coronavirus and they were supposed to postpone the payment of taxes and insurance premiums, the Kazan Zoo has been refused state support:

“Initially, the tax authorities approved the provision of benefits that were provided for the affected industries. But then they refused, saying that our OKVED code does not match the list that was specified in the decree of the government of the Russian Federation. Although this OKVED code was set automatically by the tax inspectorate. It turned out that at first they were given, but then they were taken away," said Alexander Malev, the deputy director of the zoo.

By the way, our zoo was one of the few who did not ask for the help of citizens to purchase food during self-isolation. Although the Zambezi River Instagram account suggested bringing surplus crops for the animals — for example, pumpkins and similar treats. But there was no direct fundraising here.

Meanwhile, many regional zoos were at a loss: ticket sales stopped, revenues were reduced to zero, and there was nothing to feed the animals. The directors of the Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov, and Ural zoos then asked to raise money for food. In Kazan, according to Alexander Malev, the strategic stock of food for animals was formed, the regime and diet remained the same.

Despite that zoos were included in the state list of industries affected by the coronavirus, the Kazan Zoo was refused state support. Photo: Ilya Repin

“The zoo gets support from sponsors, including financial support," Malev explained. According to him, for 2 months of self-isolation, the Kazan Zoo suffered certain losses, but “not critical”.

By Luiza Ignatyeva