Traumatised Ukrainian zoo animals struggle to adapt amid conflict

Attacks by Russian forces make it impossible to take vulnerable animals to neighbouring countries

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Pictures show how animals in Ukraine are struggling to cope as the Russian invasion continues to have a paralysing effect on zoos across the war-torn country.

Conservation charities have been able to rehome some animals — including lions, tigers and wildcats — to zoos in neighbouring Poland amid the raging conflict.

But despite these efforts, many vulnerable animals are forced to remain in their enclosures as the threat from Russian artillery and air strikes makes it impossible to take them elsewhere.

Experts say that loading highly stressed animals into crates and transporting them across noisy and complicated conflict zones can cause severe illness or death.

Although zoo animals are typically used to some external sounds, the deafening noise of explosions and gunfire is likely to have a major impact on their overall well-being.

There are currently three large zoos — Nikolaev Zoo, Kyiv Zoological Park and Kharkiv Zoo — affected by attacks carried out by the Russian military. Handlers say they are gaining a better understanding of what impacts such noises have on the animals.

At the Kyiv zoo, some animals are being given sedatives or moved to underground spaces, and keepers are staying with them overnight.

Samantha Ward, a senior lecturer in animal science at Nottingham Trent University, says that even low-level construction noise has been previously shown to be distressing to animals. She says the current conflict is likely to have a “terrifying impact” on zoo animals.

“Even in normal circumstances, moving zoo animals is not an easy task, animal transportation can have negative impacts to the animal’s welfare,” she said in an academic article.

“Animals undergoing transportation can experience dehydration, fatigue, behavioural changes and stress. Research has also shown that animals form relationships with the keepers and so this might have additional welfare implications if animals are moved under stressful conditions to new locations.

She added that research has also shown animals form relationships with keepers and that this might have additional welfare implications if animals are moved under stressful conditions to new locations.

“As the war continues, there have been reports of zoo animals being killed in the blasts and 'many animals dead with others roaming the streets', including lions, but these reports have not been verified by zoos,” she said.

Updated: March 21, 2022, 5:34 PM