- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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 January 17, 2003 

Warming Nature's Own: Winter is special challenge for animals on display

On a day of cold rain there are few visitors at the Yerevan Zoo. The director says less than a dozen visitors have come in the last two weeks.

"It is a pity few people come here in winter," says director Sahak Abovyan. "The zoo is beautiful when crowded."

But crowded or empty, there are some 200 species to be cared for and Yerevan's harsh winter makes the task a challenge.

"There are so many problems in the winter," says the head of Predators' Department Yunona Khanzadyan. "The area was cleaned from the snow, salt was strewed on the snow, but anyway water in the cages freezes."

Each day hot water is poured into containers to thaw the animals' drinking water. Abovyan says workers argue over which animal ought to get the special treatment first.

Some of the animals, such as monkeys and bears, have special winter sections built into their cages.

Bears get special attention during the winter, as the females are pregnant during these months.

Khanzadyan says the zoo has a new cub that the workers haven't even seen yet and that "we have only heard its voice."

Monkeys are locked in their "winter apartments" as soon as winter comes. Their food is the same all winter long; they eat same things as human beings -- fruits, vegetables, tea, milk, sweets.

"We can include citruses in their menu, and I assure you we can provide them with citruses at least once a month, but they don't contain enough calories," Khanzadyan says. "Everybody thinks that a monkey can be satisfied with only tangerines."

For animals that require warmth, planks are placed on the cage floors, covered with grass that is changed daily to keep dry.

"An important problem is that we haven't got good open-air cages for some animals," said Abovyan. "Open-air cages for big cats don't correspond to their norms. We would like to have bigger open-air cages, appropriate to the animal, which would let them not feel like in a prison cell. But this is connected with serious financial problems."

Sheds are prepared and grass is put in the cages of the big cats. In winter they usually live thanks to their energy and that's why workers increase the percentage of the food during that season of the year.

As all of Yerevan shutters under winter's grip, so too do the animals here. But none, Khanzadyan says, has died due to cold which has been extreme already this winter.

"I'm surprised," she says, "when someone says 'the zoo is closed, why you are working here now?' We are working for the animals, who became very close to us. Many things connect us with them. Anyone who doesn't love animals cannot work here for a long time."


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