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.
Labels: Personal Experiences, Social and Cultural