- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
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January 30, 2004 

A Season of Struggle: Yerevan Zoo shivers through winter with mounting debts and vulnerable occupants

Some animals do better than others in winter..

Last year started with tragedy for the Yerevan Zoo, but ended with more animals than before and with plans of animal matrimony.

Four predators at the zoo died last January after eating meat poisoned by anthrax, prompting a municipal investigation and criticism of zoo personnel.

"The past year of the goat, I can say was both a good and a bad year for us," says zoo director Sahak Abovyan (who has a fondness for wearing ties with brightly-colored animal images on them). "But at the end of the year we managed to fill the places of the dead animals by bringing several instead of one."

More than 40 animals have been added to the zoo collection, including tigers, lynx, serval, black panther and more than 20 birds.

But because of the zoo's general poor conditions, animals are always vulnerable during the winter months. Some animals were chosen based on their hardiness for surviving cold weather.

"Amur tigers, which have been recently imported are considered one of our biggest acquisitions," says deputy director of the zoo, Samvel Ghahramyan, who is an admirer of predators. "They're very beautiful and expensive animals and the visitors will love them. They are considered one of the biggest and can survive also in conditions of the north, so they are the best ones for our winters."

The director says winter presents special problems for the zoo.

(Workers at the zoo say that even though it already had several tigers, they are very old and in poor health and cannot be exhibited.)

Each winter there is a survival struggle at the zoo. Employees say they sometimes face a dilemma of whether to spend their limited budget on food for the animals or on ways to keep them warm.

"Our zoo is situated in such a picturesque place that other zoos may dream of," Abovyan says. "Many spend a lot of money for such images of mountains and we have it, but the care is so insufficient that each year we're facing problems and the zoo grows more gray and dark. If there were investments and the government treated it more seriously everything would have been fine."

According to the director at present there are more than 2,300 animals at the zoo, however the conditions for survival are so poor that they can hardly take care of the current population, let alone thinking about importing new animals.

"The annual budget of the zoo is about 73 million drams (approx $130,000), which we don't get in time," says Abovyan. "Fourty three million (more than $76,000) is foreseen for food and in the best case it takes 36 million (about $64,000) to buy meat at cheap prices. But we also need vegetables, seeds, the prices of which have gone up 100 percent during the past several months. As a result the zoo has 12 million drams debt (approx $21,000) just for food. Those people who have given us food on credit hope to get their money back and if they don't they'll never give us anything and I don't know what we'll do in that case."

Additionally, the zoo owes 4 million drams (about $7,000) for electricity for heating.

The deputy director says visitors are going to love the new cats.

"If we turn off heaters for one day, most of the animals will die," says Abovyan. "We always get phone calls from the power station warning that they'll turn off the electricity, but we hope they won't lose their conscience to that degree."

The "gray and dark" atmosphere at the zoo is being brightened some this season in anticipation of the arrival of a female elephant from India - a gift promised by the Prime Minister of India.

Abovyan says everything is programmed for the expected wedding, there's even a kavor (godfather) for the couple - the president of Grand Holding, Hrant Vardanyan, who sponsors the current elephant "Grand" and will also sponsor the Indian bride. There's even a name for the bride - Candy. The director says they will do everything for the Grand-Candy couple to like each other.

However, before the expected wedding, animals of the zoo in their narrow metal cells and the administration in its cold building are waiting for spring, the end of cold season, and the expected opening ceremony of the zoo in May.

According to Agnes
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In Honor

Wednesday was Army Day, marking the 12th anniversary of Republic of Armenia's forces. President Robert Kocharyan and government dignitaries visited a Yerevan military cemetary to pay respects.



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