Kyiv Zoo staff, families hide amid Russia-Ukraine war in 'zoo military commune'

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As the Russia-Ukraine war continues to take its toll on Ukraine — and as families, pets and rescued animals flee to neighboring countries for safety with the help of so many people — workers at the Kyiv Zoo are staying put to take care of thousands of zoo animals. 

Kirill Trentin, the zoo’s director, spoke with Reuters to share what Kyiv Zoo staff and their family members sheltering in the zoo are facing, now that the war is in its second week.

Trentin recalled a recent instance in which tracer ammunition flew over the 99-acre conservation center as a battle took place near the zoo.

“It’s stressful for animals,” Trentin told Reuters during a translated interview.

Kyiv Zoo Director Kirill Trentin stands near an aviary where Przewalski’s horses are in view, on March 3, 2022. Kyiv Zoo staff and family members who have found shelter in the zoo have been caring both for the animals and themselves at the wildlife facility ever since the Russia-Ukraine war broke out on Feb. 24, 2022.
(REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)

“And in the morning after, we have to look if anybody was hurt, but there were no obvious signs of injuries and no one [died],” he continued. Still, he said, “birds were hurting themselves while hitting on cages.”

The Kyiv Zoo is more than a century old and is the largest wildlife park in Ukraine. 

It is home to 200 species and nearly 4,000 animals, including lions, tigers, bears, elephants, gorillas and zebras.

If there were no war or COVID-19 pandemic, the zoo likely would be leading general sightseeing tours, winter jungle excursions, fauna of Ukraine walkthroughs and more right about now, according to existing itineraries listed on the Kyiv Zoo website.

Trentin shared a blog post noting that there are about 50 employees who are on-site providing round-the-clock care for the zoo animals. Many of these employees are zookeepers and veterinarians.

Some animals have been moved to indoor enclosures and underground galleries, Trentin said in his blog post.

He also wrote that workers and families have access to bomb shelters on the property and have a supply of food, water and electricity for the time being.

Updates about the zoo and war are being shared to the Kyiv Zoo’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.

In a “war days at the zoo” post shared on Saturday, the Kyiv Zoo staff wrote, “Zoo life is a daily work process: feed, polish, clean, repair, load, wash and much more. And we are where we need to be right now — near our hoofy and feathery, scallops and predatory suspects. And we know that life will win!”

Other zoos and sanctuaries have had to evacuate animals and staff as the war heats up.

Lions, tigers, caracals and an African wild dog were evacuated from a Ukrainian animal rescue sanctuary to Zoo Poznań in Poland, according to Facebook posts shared on Wednesday, March 2.

Similarly, bears from the WHITE ROCK Bear Shelter in Ukraine are being evacuated, according to a Facebook post on Sunday, March 6.

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