Ukraine Elephant

Details are beginning to emerge about how zoos in Ukraine are coping with the war. Some of the animals, including lions, tigers and wild cats, have been re-homed zoos in Poland but this simply won’t be possible for many species.

The current situation in Ukraine has a drastic effect on national zoos, just as World War II did to London Zoo. Currently, the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) work to support Ukrainian zoos as as much as they can.

There are three large zoos, Mykolaiv Zoo, Kyiv Zoological Park and Kharkiv Zoo, in cities that are currently under attack by the Russian army, which talks about how they i’m doing it right now. Outsiders may think that the best thing to do is to evacuate the animals to a safer environment, away from the war zone. But this is an incredibly risky venture. In stressful and difficult environments, animals may become fearful of the sounds around them. Crating highly stressed animals and transporting them through noisy and complex conflict zones can cause severe illness or death, quite apart from the risk of being hit by gunfire.

Noise affects animals

Zoo animals are used to a certain degree of noise when visitors come into their enclosures. Even human chatter has been shown to cause zoo animals to become stressed or change their behavior behavior. But most of all, the impact of visitors on zoo animals is insignificant.

Research on the effect of explosions near animals in zoos, as happens in some Ukrainian zoos, is not something that has been studied, but we have some possible comparisons with construction work. A study published in 2019 explores how elephants, giraffes and emus cope with construction work at the zoo. The elephants, giraffes and emus reacted with stress and agitation and moved to quieter areas of their enclosures. The giraffes also approached other animals in their herd, a behavior seen in wild giraffes that is indicative of increased protection.

Since the scale of war and related explosions is much larger than construction work, we can assume that it will have a terrifying effect on the animals housed in these zoos. Some animals are kept in the zoo in Kyiv sedatives given or they move to underground spaces, and the guards stay with them at night.

(Credit: Andrew Angelov/Shutterstock)

Problems with moving housing

On March 18, EAZA released a statement saying that: “Ukrainian zoos in general still do not want our help to move animals from high-risk areas; this may not match the information you get in general media coverage, but we support a direct request to zoos not to move animals for now.”

We also have to think about where they will go. Neighboring zoos may not have the space, staffing needs, expertise or specially designed enclosures to house these animals.

Even under normal circumstances, moving animals from a zoo is not an easy task, transporting animals can have a negative impact on animal welfare. Animals undergoing transport can experience dehydration, fatigue, changes in behavior and stress. Research also shows that animals form relationships with caretakers and this can have additional welfare implications if animals are moved under stressful conditions to new locations.

As the war continues, there are reports of zoo animals killed in the blasts and “many animals dead and others roaming the streets,” including lions, but these reports have not been confirmed by the zoos.

What can we learn from the past?

London Zoo was founded in 1828 and has seen two world wars, and the history of coping during bombing raids can have some useful lessons.

On September 3, 1939, World War II began and at 11 a.m. that day, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), which ran London Zoo, was told to close by the government. London Zoo has been preparing for this. Records show two giant pandas, two orangutans, four chimpanzees, three Asian elephants and an ostrich have been moved to Whipsnade Zoo outside London for safety. ZSL have matched documents from that era that tell us what happened.

Unfortunately, some of the venomous animals were killed to increase the safety of the public and staff in case someone managed to to escape due to invasion. Parts of the zoo were able to reopen, but the aquarium remained closed until 1943 in case of bombing. The tanks were emptied and some inhabitants had to be killed – although some fish were moved to tubs in the turtle house.

London Zoo has started breeding its own invertebrate supplies, such as mealworms. Requests for acorns and other animal food items were broadcast on the radio and the public donated them to the tune of one ton per week. The public could also adopt animals and help support them – this could happen in the zoos of Ukraine.

Until March 18, 2022 EAZA Ukraine Contingency Fund raised 576,371 euros ($575,252) from a very large number of individual and institutional donors, “an outstanding and humbling result that will help provide immediate and long-term assistance to colleagues in Ukraine,” EAZA said. Funds raised will be used to help Ukrainian zoos provide food and care for animals in conditions of relative welfare and safety, as well as to provide support for zoo staff and management.


Samantha Ward is Senior Lecturer in Zootechnics and Animal Welfare in Zoos, Nottingham Trent University This article was republished by The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read on original article.


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