The Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022 resulted in a mass movement of refugees into neighboring countries and locals retreating to bomb shelters. But people were not the only ones affected. Animals, particularly those remaining in Kyiv Zoo, faced numerous challenges.
Amidst bombardment by Russian forces, gunfire, and sirens, the zoo animals were exhibiting signs of stress and panic. An elephant had to be put on sedatives, while a lemur abandoned her newborn baby, resulting in it nearly dying, according to news reports.
But some 50 zoo staffers have moved onto the zoo grounds, along with 30 of their family members, partly to seek shelter, and also to care for the animals. According to a Washington Post story, some staff members have signed up to fight, while others planned to serve their community by protecting the animals and caring for them.
A big challenge is that most of the animals, which include large animals like a gorilla, elephant, and giraffe, cannot seek shelter from bombardments because they can't go underground. Their human caretakers head into makeshift shelters in a bird enclosure and unfinished aquarium, but the large animals have nowhere to go.
The Kyiv Zoo has been posting regular updates with translations on its Facebook page, sharing daily life as well as tips for caring for animals in wartime:
In one Feb. 28 post about its gorilla, the zoo wrote:
We get a lot of questions about Tony - the only gorilla in Ukraine. He is now in the inner gallery of the Island of Animals. We try to communicate with him as much as possible, because Tony began to miss the visitors. His physical condition is normal.
Another wild animal shelter near Kyiv managed to move some animals, including lions and tigers, to Poland, which the zoo posted about on March 5, clarifying that this was not related to them. “All Kyivzoo animals are on site under the 24-hour supervision of our zookeepers and veterinarians,” they wrote.
They also posted responses to reports of fake news regarding the zoo:
Please DO NOT SPREAD RUMORS AND FAKE NEWS about Kyiv Zoo! Fakes are distributed for the purpose of manipulation, misinformation and deception!
ALL OPERATIVE AND RELIABLE INFORMATION IS PUBLISHED HERE - on our official Facebook page, check it, please!!!
For nowadays Kyiv Zoo does not require help from citizens!
The zoo staff - zoo keepers, veterinarians, engineering service and others - are on places and work 24 hours a day. All animals receive food, care and necessary treatment. The Zoo is supplied with electricity, heating and water. Thank you to everyone who cares about us!
A staff member even began sleeping in the elephant’s enclosure, comforting him every time he woke in distress after hearing a loud bang.
Presently, the zoo has enough food for two weeks, but many fear that supply routes could be cut off by the Russians if the city is surrounded. They fear that their animals will be killed in the fighting.
However, there have been moments of hope. One newborn lemur was named Bayraktar, after a Turkish-made drone used by the Ukrainian military. The same lemur was abandoned by his mother, an unusual behavior that zookeepers say was due to her stress. But they’ve begun caring for the baby, and say its arrival has brought positivity to the zoo.
“A Blast-Stressed Elephant and an Abandoned Lemur: The War within Kyiv’s Zoo.” Washington Post, 6 Mar. 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/06/ukraine-kyiv-russia-zoo/. Accessed 8 Mar. 2022.
“Russian Attacks Close Kyiv Zoo; Some Animals Evacuated to Poland.” UPI, https://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2022/03/02/ukraine-russia-kyiv-zoo-animals/6671646229117/. Accessed 8 Mar. 2022.
Київський Зоологічний Парк Загальнодержавного Значення. https://www.facebook.com/zoo.kyiv.ua/. Accessed 8 Mar. 2022.