Officials rush to evacuate predators from besieged Kharkiv zoo

Feldman Ecopark said Tuesday will be a "decisive day" in its fight to evacuate large predators from the zoo. Photo courtesy of Feldman Ecopark

April 13 (UPI) — Officials at a zoo in the besieged northeastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv said they’re attempting to evacuate large predators from the facility amid Russian shelling.

Five large lions, a cub and a jaguar were among those evacuated from Feldman Ecopark on Monday, but officials said Tuesday represents a “decisive day” in the struggle to save the dangerous animals from the war as they will attempt to remove bears and two tigers from the facility.

“If the situation with shelling allows, the rescue of the predators will be over,” the zoo said.

The zoo began to remove large predators from the territory of the park early this month after Russian shelling destroyed enclosures and critical infrastructure. Several animals were also killed in shelling early in the war, as were at least two volunteers and an employee.

“Feldman Ecopark no longer exists,” Alexander Feldman, the zoo’s founder, said in a statement early this month, adding that getting large predators was now their greatest problem.

“Their enclosures miraculously still retain their integrity, but one more shelling — and the lions, tigers, bears, distraught with fear, may be free and go toward Kharkov or to nearby villages,” Feldman said. “We cannot allow this.”

The operation to evacuate animals from the facility is “a complex, multi-stage process that requires considerable effort and time,” it said.

Special transport and a lot of people are required, which the park cautioned could attract the attention of the Russian military, “who, as a rule, responds to activity on the territory of Ecopark with shelling.”

Over the weekend, the park posted to its website a video of three men seen attempting to move a sedated white lion into what appears to be a metal transport container.

In a separate post, it said it evacuated cheetahs from their aviary shortly before it was destroyed in bombing. If officials had waited any longer, the animals could have been killed or escaped, creating not only a dangerous situation for the felines but for the humans who find them, it said.

“Now they are doing well: They began to settle in their temporary dwelling near Poltava,” the statement said.

If the officials are successful in evacuating the last of the large predators from the park, zoo officials said they will begin to remove camels, Siberian ibex, markor and other large hoofed animals to safety.

“We work to save them every day and not a single animal will be left to their fate, be it a pig, a tiger or a bear,” it said. “Our team has a firm mood: We will not abandon anyone. All animals will be saved.”

in a statement on Monday, the zoo said nearly 4,000 people over the past week alone have provided assistance for the evacuation, treatment and supply of food to Feldman Ecopark animals with donations coming in from all regions of Ukraine, as well as foreign nations, with some large donations being made anonymously in cryptocurrencies.

The mayors of cities, animal protection organizations and those who own small zoos or farms have also reached out to Feldman Ecopark, offering to house animals evacuated from Ukraine, but the park said it prefers to try and keep the animals in country.

Park director Vitaly Ilchenko selects where the animals will be housed based on logistics, including feed delivery and veterinary services, while attempting to minimize the time they spend in cages for transport as it compounds the stress the animals are under caused by Russian bombing.

However, Feldman Ecopark is not the only zoo threatened by the war Russia launched against Ukraine on Feb. 24.

The European Association of Zoos and Aquariums on its website states funds have been given to zoos in the cities of Kharkiv, Kyiv, Lutsk and Mykolaiv, as well as to the Askania Nova biosphere reserve, Odessa Biopark and Rivne Zoo, among others.

Between the start of the war and Thursday, the EAZA said it has raised more than $1.1 million for the Ukrainian animals from nearly 100 of its member and other institutions and more than 10,000 individual donors.

The organization said the Russian invasion presents unique problems for Ukrainian zoos and animals reserves while Russian forces and sanctions limit options available to aid them.

Its funding protocol has been divided into three phases that are dictated by the progress of the war

During Phase 1: Primary crisis phase, the current phase, the goal is to provide funds to zoos so to cover food and water and other primary care for their animals while helping to move them to safety if possible.

For Phase 2: Secondary crisis phase, the EAZA will need to consider whether the war will persist and if so, provide the facilities with funds for long-term care.

Phase 3: Recovery phase will be initiated once the war is over or fighting is confined to areas away from zoos. Then, money will be dispersed to facilities to rebuild.

The war that nears two months old came under swift condemnation from not only world leaders but animal rights groups and organizations as well.

The World Association of Zoos and Aquariums issued a statement in mid-March warning that the “escalating and indiscriminate violence” of the Russia side included attacks against zoos and their staff, damaging their ability to provide welfare to animals in their care.

“In the spirit of world peace, WAZA calls on its members to immediately cease partnering with the Russian Federation’s government and to restrict collaboration with Russian members to specific conservation and animal welfare efforts,” it said.


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