A shattered zoo in Ukraine has said almost 100 animals have been ‘murdered’ by Russian forces as it tries to evacuate the remaining creatures to safety.
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Feldman Ecopark in Kharkiv has come under heavy shelling which it said has claimed the lives of big cats, bison, goats and monkeys.
Read more: Ukraine zoo animals
Three members of zoo staff have also been killed due to the north-eastern province coming under intense bombardment since the outset of the Russian invasion 47 days ago.
The non-profit sanctuary revealed the toll as the ‘extremely dangerous’ work to evacuate the remaining animals to safety resumed today following a pause due to shell fire.
A spokesman said: ‘The number of innocent animal victims is growing daily.
‘The list of almost 100 murdered animals includes nine red deer, of which another 20 ran away to a nearby forest after their enclosures were hit, two orangutans and a chimpanzee, four fallow deer, two bison, three Welsh goats, a large number of big cats and primates, ungulates, marsupials and countless numbers of birds.’
The free-entry attraction, which was involved with social projects such as providing therapy for children with special needs, was home to about 5,000 animals encompassing 300 species before the invasion.
Shellfire has severely damaged enclosures, while the wartime conditions have left the surviving creatures heavily traumatised.
On Sunday, rescuers were prevented from entering the area for the third day running due to the incoming rounds.
A picture shared by the park on Facebook showed fragments of twisted steel and broken barriers at the bombed-out site, which lies on the northern fringes of the region just 40 miles from the Russian border.
Despite the threat to human life, lions, cheetahs, jaguars and panthers were among the inhabitants safely evacuated by the rescue team last week.
In total, around 30% of the creatures have been relocated so far, also including African spurred tortoises, alpacas, capybara rodents, exotic birds, great apes, kangaroos, monkeys and tapirs.
The rescue effort continued today, with badgers, foxes and caracal wild cats taken to safety.
‘Feldman Ecopark has been under constant shelling and bombing from theRussian military since the start of the war,’ the spokesman said.
‘During this time three members of the park’s staff have been killed by bombs. In breaks during the bombardment, our brave volunteers and employees manage to feed, evacuate and treat the animals.
‘The animal rescue operations are extremely dangerous.’
Alexander Feldman, the park’s owner and founder, has made appeals for help via Facebook which have prompted messages of support from individuals and groups from across the world.
He has thanked well-wishers for offering to help but wants to cut down on the already huge stress placed on the animals by evacuating them to locations domestically, including near Poltava in central Ukraine and Kharkiv Zoo which lies to the south within the city itself.
The challenges of relocating the big cats, a major undertaking even in peacetime, has meant that they have been among the last to leave.
‘The main problem is the evacuation of large predators, as transport is complicated even under normal circumstances,’ the spokesman said.
‘During a war, road damage and the constant risk of shelling make it even harder, especially when animals have been under stress from shelling for more than a month and, in general, from the fact that their calm and measured life has changed dramatically.
‘Our zoological collection includes dozens of bears, lions, tigers, jaguars, leopards and other animals.
‘Their evacuation is a huge risk and requires the construction of enclosures with hard, protective barriers against predators on the outside. Therefore, their evacuation was postponed.
‘With the intensification of shelling and bombardment, the threat of destruction of predator enclosures has increased significantly.
‘Predators would pose a major danger to humans if they got out of the zoo and roamed free.’
The attraction shared footage of a lion being loaded up into a lorry during an evacuation last week, with the big cat giving a low growl as Mr Feldman gently coaxed it into a transportation cage.
Bears and monkeys were also taken to safety, with the operation allaying fears that many of the animals would have to be put to sleep if new homes were not found.
Those who have been taking part in the evacuations and otherwise helping to feed and water the animals are under no illusions that they are risking their lives. It’s not clear if the park is being deliberately targeted or has been caught up on the frontlines as it is in the main invasion path from the north towards Kharkiv.
‘The evacuation of animals depends on the intensity of shelling,’ the spokesman said. ‘Any human or vehicle on the territory of Feldman Ecopark can become a target for the Russian military.’
The park nevertheless hopes that the relocations will prove to be temporary and it will be able to rebuild its devastated infrastructure and enclosures and reopen after the war.
The spokesperson said: ‘Our plans for the future include the development of children’s environmental camps, the creation of a large-scale safari complex with animals from different continents of the world and the construction of a ‘Spirits of the Wild’ exposition cluster.
‘In coming years we also plan dozens of joint projects with Ukrainian and international organizations for the protection and restoration of populations of rare animal species in Europe.
‘After the end of the war, we will restore everything and will certainly implement all our plans.’
cinemaboxhd.org has previously told the story of how two British men rescued a lion and a wolf from another zoo close to the frontline in eastern Ukraine, using a van to take the animals to a sanctuary in Romania.
Tim Locks and Jonathan Weaving drove around the clock as they undertook the 2,600-mile trip to save the animals’ lives.
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