Notes From Hairenik
Some days I wonder what it means to be Armenian, as my mindset doesn’t seem to coincide with many people here regarding certain issues. Animal protection is no exception.

Today Ariga suggested that we go to the Yerevan Zoo, and although I was not too keen on the idea as I have heard that the place was not in good shape, I agreed anyway. When we entered I did not expect the dismay that I witnessed.

The zoo, which is government controlled, is run down and the poor animals are not living well at all. We first went to see the bears and what I saw was upsetting but not as shocking as what I would see later. The zoo has three bears who are not in bad shape, but the ground of the area in which they reside was almost completely covered by their own excrement. There were few clean places for them to sit and as a result their fur was a bit soiled. The water that was provided for them to swim in—which was clean compared to other areas of the zoo—was littered with plastic bags and popcorn.

Speaking of litter, there was trash strewn everywhere, as can be noticed at virtually every public rest/relaxation area throughout Armenia. There was not one patch of space that did not have plastic bottles or bags on it. Naturally the bags and other crap float around when a gust of wind comes through the place and thus you have animals living with litter in their areas.

Many of the animals were clearly sick and malnourished. The ostriches totally ignored the large tub of rotten apples and bits of bread given them to eat. The foxes in their pens were thirsty, pacing back and forth or curled up in a corner. We saw no water laid for them, although a slab of rotten meat had been thrown into one of the pens that had been ignored.

One thing I noticed that really disturbed me is that almost all the animals stand and sleep on concrete or asphalt, which are in turn covered in their own feces. There is no grass or anything organic for that matter for the ostriches or other birds to walk on. And one area that contained swans had only a small pool of standing water about 10 feet long and three feet wide for them to swim in, which was completely filthy with green muck and litter, as were all the water pools in the zoo. There are even two hippopotamuses who do not dare venture into their own swimming place, also very small, as it is unfit for bathing. Both were baking in the sun, and I don’t understand how they survive with no fresh water.

I also noticed that several trees have been cut throughout the zoo, so now there is virtually no shade for many of the animals that need it. Some of the slopes that line the zoo boundaries have been completely voided of their greenery, so now there is only sand and rocks. Many of the animals are clearly not being cared for at all. The llamas have dirty, matted coats that need to be tended to, and the one seemingly confused elephant, who for some reason has a chain winding around its front right foot, is covered in dust and dirt.

I asked the guy ripping tickets at the gate why the animals are living so miserably, whereby he responded, “People are living miserably too. Didn’t you know that?” I don’t know what the hell kind of an answer that is, seeing that animals in captivity are wholly dependent on the human caretakers to provide for them. But I know that his “vochinch” mentality, undoubtedly shared by nearly everyone working in that zoo from what I saw of the place, is not going to turn around.

Since the zoo is government controlled and it can obviously not properly fund the zoo (admission is a mere 150 dram or about 35 cents) for whatever reason, it must be either shut down or privatized. Ariga told me that the zoo in Tbilisi is in excellent shape compared to the Yerevan zoo, so I’m sure many of the animals can be sold or donated to it. It is unfair to these defenseless animals that they be subjected to such disasterous conditions. These animals in public display are meant to be respected and admired—instead they are scorned and humiliated. And I don’t know why the local representative of the World Wildlife Foundation doesn’t do anything about what’s happening—it makes no sense at all.

Really, some of these oligarghs/ultra-wealthy businessmen should be approached to buy the zoo and bring it up to accepted zookeeping standards, if such exist. Despite what people think about his business practices or whatever, Gagik Tsarukian, who is the owner of Kotayk Beer and anything bearing the “Multigroup” mark, would be the perfect person to turn this place around because he is good at keeping public places clean. His home town of Abovyan has no litter on its streets, and the public spaces are in beautiful shape. The small town of Arinj that sits at the foot of his living compound perched high up on a hill on the Kotayk Region border, is sparkling, the streets lined with flowers. Also he has replaced the funicular in Tsakhadzor and seems to be investing a lot of money in the resort area. There is plenty of money to be made in zoos as well, so why doesn’t one of these guys with the megabucks take the Yerevan Zoo over?

Ariga mentioned to me today that when it comes to animals, Armenians are only good at raising then slaughtering pigs and sheep. In a country where driving over dogs is considered a sport, I don’t expect that cruelty towards animals en masse will ever be overcome here. Just by the way I have seen horses and other farm animals being cared for in villages, I know that there needs to be widespread education about animal protection in this country, but I have no idea what children are being taught regarding that.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...
well written, i know the situation in east europe, the worker is wright, people are hungry and without shelter. therefore, animals can wait do not you think???

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
No, the animals cannot wait, because they are just as important as people. Again, animals in captivity are soley reliant on their caretakers to provide for them, as they cannot count on their insticts to help them live when in a cage.
The issue regarding the poor class of Armenia needs to be addressed quickly, especially homelessness which virtually did not exist a few years ago. But we cannot confuse the rights of the poor with those of helpless animals in captivity.

Both are serious problems, but they are separate from one another, and the addressing of one cannot be sacrificed for the other.

Blogger Hasmik said...
Thank you for this descriptive post. I deeply share your concerns and shocked how much our people have been SLEEPING.

I have to differ with you on resolving this problem. I don't think privatization and giving Yerevan'z zoo to oligarchies is the way.

The entire system is corrupt Gabris. It breaks my heart that our people are not rising up against this kleptocracy -- opportunists who have total control over the state! Mob rule. This goes to show that low participation, not being involved in the government will lead to this.

No wonder India's people were protesting against government's decision to donate one of their elephants to Yerevan. Majority of India lives below poverty line yet their animals are well taken care of. I am almost certain that if people genuinely had a concern for Armenia's zoo, they would have made sure that this would not have happened.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thanks for the article Garbis. While in Armenia, I also saw the disgraceful treatment of animals, and heard the same excuses - namely that since people were living badly it couldn't be helped. I agree with you that this is more a matter of attitude towards animals. It takes very little money to clean up feces and litter, and even this would improve the conditions in the Yerevan Zoo. Not sure that privatization is the answer, but I think that Diaspora funds, rather than building churches (does Armenia really need one more church?) could be directed toward this type of activity, while keeping the zoo public. I personally avoided the zoo, already disgusted by the treatment of wild dogs by Armenians. While living in Ukraine last year, I saw a completely different attitude toward animals. The wild dogs were treated humanely, mostly ignored but never beaten, and as a result, they were never hostile to humans. They say a society can be judged by its treatment of the weak and defenceless, and in this sense, Armenia has a lot of work to do.

Blogger karine said...
First of all thank you for your article concerning animals in Armenian Zoo. We felt just the same when last time were in armenian zoo. It is terrible to see suffers of animals and their eyes full with no hope of any change for the better.

Armenians want to become a member of EU but they dont think that they even dont have simple manners to treat animals. Mahatma Gandi said: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated”. By this is said everything.

Being a new established NGO "Animals' Rights in Armenian Highlands" and member of the "World Society of the Protection Animals" we intend to fight against cruelty of population and governmental structures related of wildlife and animals protection. The situation concerning animal welfare in Armenia is close to dramatic and it is quite possible that in a while there will be nothing left to protect!!!

Through our activity to protect animals’ rights we intend to implement:

Humane Education
Public awareness (PR)

At the end and I would say that we are all earth creatures and noone has priviledge over others. So while people think they are more important than animals nothing will be changed in their behaviour

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
Karine, this is great news! I'm glad to see that NGOs are emerging to protect not only the environment but the rights of animals as well, whether in captivity or in the wild. This action is extremely important in Armenia. I have often told friends and family that I find it strange I cannot find any squirrels or other animals in forests here, at least not yet. I've been told that anything that moves is hunted.

If you have or will launch a blog or Web site, please post the link here!

Blogger karine said...
Thanks for your encourage Christian. I am sure very soon we will have an official website about our organization. Of course I will put a link here and everywhere to find people around with the willingness to protect animals. We intensively work on fundraising and hope to get support to realise our mission.

Blogger Unknown said...
Sorry to bring up such an old post but i went to the zoo today in Yerevan and i had to see what people were saying about this disgrace.

This blog post was the best thing ive seen all year. It was exactly what ive been thinking since ive been in this dump.

The zoo hasnt changed much from what you guys have described. The entry fee is now 300AMD which is about 80c US.

They have 2 more bears and the animals still walk in there crap and the hippos were exactly how you described them aswell as everything else. The little has been cleaned up a little.

You mentioned for one of the rich guys to take over the zoo, i search Armenia zoo on youtube and saw 1 of armenias richest man feed a donkey to 2 lions in his own private zoo. So yeh i dunno about him looking after the place. im about to upload my visit to the zoo on youtube if you want to search it i will have the title as "Armenia Zoo" i will have it done within a day of posting this vid.