Kirsan Ilyumzhinov: Everyone has the right to life. We must defend, love and protect it.

For a month now, Russia has been living in self-isolation caused by the pandemic of a new coronavirus. Other countries declared total quarantine before us, and some have already crossed the traditional forty-day threshold (“quarantena” in Italian), but only few decided to take the first timid steps to return to normal life.

Obviously, the states’ leaders prefer not to rush, but the economic losses are huge. All have suffered. Of course, authorities, albeit to varying degrees, tried to support the weaker categories of citizens and sectors of the economy. However, it is simply impossible to protect everyone at the same time, and the trouble is that it’s not enough to get on the list of recipients of state aid, it must also arrive in time.


Being in self-isolation, I began to surf the Internet more often. And since I really love animals, I watch a lot of videos about cats, both small and large. It is calming. At least for me. But I came upon some disturbing moments, which I would like to share with you, dear readers.

Zoos turned out to be the most vulnerable during the world pandemic. Despite the fact that most of them exist on grants and subsidies from state budgets, a considerable share of their income is ticket sales. And people are staying at home now.
No money means no food for animals. Neumuenster Zoo, where more than seven hundred animals live - hundreds of different species - have recently announced that they would be forced to "destroy part of the collection." The Association of German Zoos has long turned to Angela Merkel with a request to urgently provide 100 million euros, but apparently hasn’t got it.
A similar situation exists in England, where zoos ask for private donations to avoid euthanizing their pets. I sincerely hope that neither Germany nor Britain will reach extreme measures. However, the hope is weak: in the West they are used to solving such problems in a radical way. Even without any pandemics, from three to five thousand completely healthy animals are killed under various pretexts in their zoos.
Russian zoos are just as vulnerable to a pandemic crisis. Like in Germany, our Union of Zoos appealed to the Russian government for state assistance. While there is no answer, they try to survive. The local city and regional authorities came to the aid of the Novosibirsk zoo, and probably the Rostov-on-Don Zoo will receive the same support.
Unfortunately, there is no certainty that all Russian zoos can count on the help of regional authorities. Of particular concern is the situation prevailing in the Crimean safari park of lions "Taigan" and the Yalta Zoo "Fairy Tale". If these were not private zoos, the state would be obliged to take care of them!
The stories of these zoos and their owner Oleg Zubkov deserve to be told.
It is unlikely that a retired officer, who chose a businessman’s career during the perestroika period and was quite successful in Yalta, would ever think of becoming a zoo owner. But in 1995, he was offered to buy the Glade of Fairy Tales city zoo, founded by the central committee of the Komsomol of Ukraine. By that time, the only worthy asset of the zoo was only its location in the city centre. Its “population”, on the other hand, differed little from the inhabitants of the peasant's yard: rams, roe deer, yak, ferrets and peacocks.
What would any average businessman of those years do? He would dispose of the animals and resell the zoo with maximum profit.
But Zubkov decided to create a real zoo in Yalta and, as it turned out, succeeded in it. Today, you can see not only a variety of mammals, but also reptiles and sea inhabitants in the "Tale".
Oleg Zubkov did not follow the path of an ordinary show entrepreneur, trying to please the public. He sat down to study zoology and ethology (the science of animal behaviour and habits). He thought over every little thing creating everything from scratch. It is very important that his wife, Oksana, supported Oleg in everything (although, as he says, at first she was not enthusiastic about the need to sell their apartment in Yalta). In general, he did it.
But he wanted to be more than an owner of the first private zoo in the former USSR albeit very successful. As Oleg Zubkov himself admits, from some point he set about trying to create a real safari park in Crimea, where people could see animals in their natural habitat. First of all, it concerned lions and tigers, because no other animals evoke such interest and admiration as predators with their regal grace: look at least at your cat.
This opportunity presented itself in 2006, when the property of the disbanded military unit was put up for sale near the city of Belogorsk, not far from the Taigan reservoir. In 2009, Zubkov opened the Taigan Lion Park, which is the largest safari park in Europe now. Today, one and a half hundred large predators live in it: lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards and many other animals and birds. Most of them came here from other zoos, circuses, or were saved from death. The animals are almost free from control, and the visitors’ routes are designed so that people and animals do not intersect and do not interfere with each other.
However, everything goes smoothly on paper only. In reality, "Tale" and "Taigan" are constantly haunted by troubles caused by secret and sometimes open detractors. Back in 2009, someone poisoned several animals in the "Tale". After the change of jurisdiction of Crimea, a continuous stream of bills and claims from the authorities are pouring onto both zoos. Zubkov is forced to spend hundreds of thousands to pay the fines, and recently he even spent some time in a pre-trial detention centre.
The other would have given up. But Oleg Zubkov is a former officer who is not used to give up easily. In addition, he loves animals with all his heart and the feelings are reciprocal. In his film about Taigan, Edgar Zapashny was amazed to see how calmly Oleg violates all the training rules and explains this by the fact that the man and his animals have long become one family. Now even the most aggressive predators recognize the primacy of the owner of the park. A famous TV presenter and scientist, Doctor of Biological Sciences Nikolai Drozdov, in a recent interview, called Zubkov a unique specialist (his zoos not only entertain people, but also conduct scientific work). By the way, Red Book’s white lions and Amur tigers live and breed in the safari park. Every year, small fluffy formidable predators to-be are born and nursed by Oleg and his employees. Such a baby boom would not exist if the animals suffered in captivity.
But for some reason, Crimean officials do not think so. Activities of both zoos, primarily Taigan, periodically become the objects of far-fetched claims, despite the fact that Zubkov zoos make a significant contribution to the economy of Yalta, Belogorsk and the whole Crimea. I do not want to believe as some believe that this is an attempt to raider capture. It is rather, the consequences of the bureaucratic habit of reinsurance and the desire to curry favour with bosses. But this does not change the essence of the matter.
Both parks including Taigan are now closed by court order since December 5 last year. Let’s put aside the legality of this verdict. The problem is that for almost half a year the park cannot earn money, which means that its animals are doomed to starvation. Did the judges not even think that their decision could lead to the death of living creatures?
Fortunately, in addition to the bureaucrats, there are a lot of really caring people in our country, and I am happy to note that life in Taigan and Tale is, as Oleg Zubkov himself says, getting better. Not only ordinary people came to the rescue, but also local agricultural producers and large retail stores, so at least the starvation does not threaten the animals. In addition, the situation was taken under control by representatives of the All-Russian Popular Front, trainer Edgar Zapashny and a veterinarian from Chelyabinsk, who put his whole soul into saving animals, Karen Dallakyan. There is hope that the thoughtless bureaucratic zeal will be moderated.
However, who can tell how many large and small zoos in Russia also need help, but cannot count on high patronage? They all need the attention and support of the whole society, and not just the ONF. Just because we all - each of us - are responsible for the fate of the animals.
Even thirty or forty years ago, we lived believing that "nature is not a temple, but a workshop, and the person in it is a worker." The idea is not new: the Book of Genesis, written three and a half thousand years ago, claims that the Lord, having created man, gave him dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. (Genesis 1, 28).
But power does not imply so much the authority to completely control the life and death of the subjects, as responsibility for ensuring that their life is complete. As Saint-Exupery wrote, "we are responsible for those we tamed." I repeat: responsible are we all together and each of us, and not just the owners and employees of zoos. The right to life - full and bright, such as that of the pets of Oleg Zubkov - has every living creature, especially since it has been tamed by man. And each person is obliged to do everything to make it full and bright.
Did you know that animals born in captivity (and Oleg Zubkov’s parks are mostly those), often need human communication? Like many showmen they can become depressed and even get sick without public attention.
Therefore, as soon as circumstances permit, I plan to go to Taigan. Not only in order to express support to Oleg Zubkov and his park , but also to help his pets survive the psychological crisis. I would only be glad if readers decide to keep me company.