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Funding shortage leaves Ukraine's zoo animals facing starvation

Published time: April 09, 2014 15:39
The hippopotamus at the city zoo in Kharkov (Reuters / Leonid Litvin)

The hippopotamus at the city zoo in Kharkov (Reuters / Leonid Litvin)

Zoos across Ukraine are experiencing the fallout after the coup in Ukraine ousted President Viktor Yanukovich. Worried staff say the animals face starvation unless funds are immediately provided to buy food.

The zoo in Nikolaev is one of the country’s oldest and has survived two world wars, but the latest political crisis in Ukraine could see it closing. It is not just the animals that are in danger. The zoo also desperately needs money in order to pay the costs of running the establishment.

According to Barbara Wiseman, president of the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization, which is an international non-profit conservation and environmental body, “there are close to 5,735 animals on the brink.” She has been launching a campaign to raise funds from around the world to help the stricken animals, after learning of their fate from South African animal lover Lionel de Lange, who is based in Ukraine.

The organization is trying to rescue over 8,000 animals in total by providing the necessary food and medical supplies to several Ukrainian zoos.

“We have raised enough funds to cover the last two weeks of needed food and medical supplies and have enough food for one more week,” Wiseman said. “The zoo will not have the resources to take care of the animals’ food needs until the end of April when the weather gets warmer and the [income] from zoo attendance [rises].”

The zoo has made an appeal to the public for help, with ticket sales helping to bring in just over $20,000, while the people of Nikolaev, which is in the south of the country, also brought food with them to give to the animals.

Ostriches kept within an enclosure on the grounds of the Mezhyhirya residence of Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovich in the village Novi Petrivtsi, outside Kiev February 22, 2014. (Reuters / Konstantin Chernichkin)

Nikolaev zoo is not the only attraction to have suffered. Kharkov zoo also faced similar problems, "our animals are not fighting for power, they do not share anyone's political views, they just want to live", the zoo said in a statement in March, AFP reported. With no help forthcoming from the coup-appointed government, the residents of Kharkov took matters into their own hands.

Worried locals advertised the zoo’s plight and the public responded. In just three days, the zoo attracted 77,603 visitors and managed to raise almost $125,000 through ticket sales and donations from abroad, the zoo said on its website.

"We sincerely thank everyone who helped the zoo during these difficult days. To our call of ‘Save the Kharkov zoo!’ it seems like the entire city responded. This weekend our zoo saw huge lines for tickets, tons of food, and lots of positive emotions. People of all ages and professions kindly showed up to support the zoo,” the zoo’s website said after seeing a significant rise in visitors between March 8 and 10.

However, the zoo still faces substantial financial difficulties. On March 20, its website stated it still needed to find in the region of $110,000 to pay for utilities such as electricity and gas.

The animals at Viktor Yanukovich’s personal zoo are also facing starvation, according to NTD television. When the ousted president fled the country, he left no means of supporting over 2,000 animals at his estate, with most of his support staff also leaving. One of the only people to show an interest in caring for the animals was Sergey Grigoryev, who used to work at the Kiev zoo.

Using social media, he managed to mobilize more than 100 people, who are giving up their free time to work at the zoo. However supplies are low and Grigoryev believes they only have enough food and vitamins to last the animals until the end of this week.

He says the volunteers are trying to find them new homes, but Kiev zoo does not want to take in any new animals at the moment. Talks with other zoos across the country are continuing.