June 16, 2023 war in ukraine

How Russians are ‘liberating’ animals in Ukraine? Now they stole a tiger cub from a zoo in Mariupol

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A raccoon was apparently not enough. The Russians have now stolen a three-month-old tiger cub from Ukraine.

A story about a racoon stolen from the Kherson zoo took over the media last autumn. Videos of Russians picking up the animal by its tail and then taking it out of the Kherson zoo have shocked people around the world and yet again showcased the inhumane acts the invaders are committing on occupied territories.

Right now, a new story of another animal being shipped off to Russia from occupied Mariupol in south-eastern Ukraine has taken over. Occupants have been sharing photos on social media alongside a stolen three-month-old tiger cub. The Mariupol City Council reported that the cub had been living at the zoo. After his mother refused to feed him, he was looked after by a local shepherd dog. Occupants have now decided to relocate the cub to Moscow and train it for circus performances.

Russian law still allows circuses to use animals in such a way and so animal performances are a common sight. At the same time, animal participation in circuses has been banned as a form of abuse and cruelty in more than 20 countries, amongst them Slovenia, the Netherlands, and most recently England.

Circuses are not a place for animals that belong in the wild. Circus tigers, bears, lions and other species are kept in cages where they are confined to a living space only large enough to lie down, and certainly not the space allowing them to stretch. They are only taken out of their cages to be ‘trained’, which is an euphemism hiding wide usage of prods and whips. These animals typically perform every night.

Frequent incidents depict how cruelty in circuses results in the deterioration of mental health in animals, leading to acts of aggression. In January, people who attended a Russian Kislovodsk State Circus were horrified by a brutal fight that broke out in the middle of the performance between two female tigers. One of them was seriously injured in the fight. This happened just a few days after a different big cat attacked a famous circus trainer in the Black Sea resort in Sochi.

The invasion of Ukraine has harmed animals not only in the occupied territory zoos but across the country. Since September 2022, the Russian military has caused service outages all around Ukraine by purposefully targeting the infrastructure. While many places had lost heating, the Kyiv Zoo has reported that they were using a wood-burning stove to keep the temperature for Tony the gorilla, other African primates and tropical animals against the backdrop of multi-hour power and heating outages.

While temperatures in Ukraine in the winter months are typically much below zero, animals like these require the temperature of at least 20 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, keeping lights up is essential for their wellbeing, as the absence of light can deteriorate the activity and appetites of many animals . One of Kyiv Zoo’s employees reported that battery-powered lights were installed to keep the activity of animals up while a stove allowed them to maintain constant temperatures.

During the war animals suffered in the wild as well. Askania Nova, the biggest natural reserve in Ukraine, has been captured by the invaders. Though the Southern part of the Kherson oblast, where the reserve is located, has been occupied by the Russians since the first months of the full scale invasion, the reserve itself had until March 2023 remained under Ukrainian administration.

As information from the occupied zone is limited, it is unclear what impact the Russian occupation will have for the wildlife at Askania Nova. However, judging from the previous experiences, Russian control will come with atrocious consequences.

Written by:

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Sofia Radysh

Science Section Editor

Animal welfare correspondent

Kyiv, Ukraine | London, United Kingdom

Born in 2005, Sofia lived in Kyiv, but now, because of the war, is a refugee in London. She is interested in animal welfare and how current events and social media impact the lives of our four-legged friends, and writes about this in Harbingers’ Magazine.

In 2022, she took over from Isaac Kadas as the second editor-in-chief of Harbingers’ Magazine.

In her free time, she does dog training and film-making. She likes getting out of her comfort zone and trying new things out.

Sofia speaks Ukrainian, English, Russian and a bit of German.

Edited by:

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Sofiya Tkachenko

former Editor-in-chief

Kyiv, Ukraine | Vienna, Austria

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