The Moscow Zoo has come a long way from small zoological gardens to a large scientific, cultural, educational, and nature-oriented organization.
The Zoo (then called the Moscow Zoological Gardens) was founded by the Russian Imperial Society for Plant and Animal Acclimatization in the middle of the XIX century. On the 13th February, 1864, it was opened to the public. A Moscow University professor, Anatoly Bogdanov, was one of the main people behind the foundation of the Zoo. Since it was the first attempt to create this kind of a scientific organization ("a living open-air museum", as professor Bogdanov said), the foundation of the Zoo was an important event in the cultural life of Moscow.
Moreover it was a unique experiment in organizing zoological gardens under a rather harsh climate of central Russia.
The members of the Russian Imperial Society believed that the Zoo had the following main tasks:
– collecting live representatives of higher vertebrate animals (in the first place, those that inhabit Russia) for scientific studies;
– creating a public collection of typical animals for the purpose of education, i.e., for the purpose of disseminating zoological knowledge among the general public;
– making scientific experiments and observations with animals useful in practice, especially with prominent breeds of domestic animals.
The Zoo was funded by entrance fees and private donations including money donated by members of the imperial family. During the first years, Moscow inhabitants were quite willing to visit the Zoo: the yearly number of visitors reached ten thousand. The visitors had an opportunity to get familiar with a very impressive (for the time) collection that in 1864 and 1865 contained 134 instances of domestic animals and 160 instances of wild animals.
However, the revenues did not cover expenses: the Zoo did not have enough money either for purchasing and maintaining animals or for renovation and construction of buildings and cages. The Zoo sank into enormous debts. Since the Moscow government refused to provide any assistance, the Society was forced to rent the Zoo out to a business family of Ryabinin. It took only four years for the Ryabinins to drive the Zoo into bankruptcy. The Zoo was reduced to an entertainment enterprise. In 1878, the Zoo was returned under the management of the Society, which started searching for financing again. For some time, the Society managed to revive the activities of the Zoo up to the point of purchasing new animals, but during the Russian revolution of 1905 the Zoo found itself at the epicentre of fighting. The Zoo was severely damaged: many buildings including the library were destroyed and many animals died. Again, the Society was forced to transfer the Zoo into private hands.
After the Russian October Revolution of 1917, the Society ceased to exist. In 1919, the Zoo was nationalized. In 1922, it was put under management of the communist Moscow parliament, the Mossovet. Since that time, the Zoo has been managed by Moscow city authorities and the area of the Zoo has almost doubled.
In 1926, the Zoo was officially renamed the Moscow Zoological Park. At that time, the Zoo expanded: the collection of animals was enlarged, education and science departments as well as science labs for animal medicine, biology, and nourishment established, and the permanent Workshop of Young Biologists of the Zoological Park was founded. At the area appended to the Zoo, modern (for the time) expositions were opened. Visitors could walk along paths inside spacious fenced areas for deer. The most interesting construction, which looked like a high rock, was called the Animal Island. There, large predators (bears, tigers, lions, etc.) were only separated from the visitors by deep, dry or water-filled, ditches.
In thirties, an absolutely unique section was established: the Zoo was the first in the world to establish a so-called "travelling" section at the education department; its members visited schools, universities, clubs, young pioneer camps for the purpose of holding lectures that included demonstrations of live animals. This kind of educational programs was very popular at the time when the media was only at the beginning of its long way towards the modern radio, TV, and video shows.
The Zoo continued functioning even during the World War II; six million people visited it from 1941 to 1945. During this period, the Zoo contained also an animal breeding facility, a production enterprise, and the Durov's animal theatre. When the War was over, these organizations became stand-alone. In late sixties, the Zoo was put under management of the Chief Directorate of Culture. The collection of the Zoo grew up to 3,500 animal units of 500 species and subspecies.
Since then, the Zoo has become one of the largest Moscow scientific and educational organizations as well as a favourite leisure area of Moscow inhabitants and tourists.
Visitors of the Zoo receive a lot of diverse information specifically designed to disseminate scientific knowledge about nature and ideas about the importance of protecting the wild life. The Zoo provides assistance to schools and universities. It also performs scientific research, with the results published in periodicals and collected volumes of research papers.
In seventies, eighties, and nineties, the Zoo significantly expanded its international activities by regularly and frequently performing animal exchange with many zoological parks of the world, participating in a number of international programs for maintaining and breeding of rare animal species, and performing information and experience exchange.
Despite many successes reached by the Zoo in the rare animal protection area, the Zoo was in a dangerous state: its pavilions, open-air cages, and utilities were gradually getting unusable. It was obvious that it was necessary to improve conditions of the animals. The history of developing a reconstruction design for the oldest Russian zoological park is complex and long enough: the first reconstruction plans were under development even in early seventies. However, economic and social problems hindered implementation of most ideas and intentions. Still something was accomplished: a partial reconstruction of the main entrance, the Monkey Area, and the Lion Area as well the Youngster Area. However, during many years, the plans for founding a new zoological park in a different district of Moscow as well as the designs for complete reconstruction remained merely a dream. Finally, in early nineties, a new Moscow government headed by the city mayor Yury Luzhkov adopted a decision on a long-needed complete reconstruction of the Zoo, which started in 1990. In accordance with the plans of the Moscow government, the first stage of the reconstruction had been completed by the 850th anniversary of Moscow (i.e., by 1997).
The group of architects working in the reconstruction project was headed by Anatoly Andreyev who specialized on architecture of zoological parks from 1970s. The fundamental principles of the reconstruction, reflected in the design documentation, pursued the following goals:
– to preserve or partially rebuild memorial objects and water reservoirs;
– to create additional insulation from noisy city roadways;
— to expand the "old" area of the Zoo by appending strips limited by adjacent streets.
The set principles were implemented. The existing area of 16.8 hectares (41.5 acres) was expanded by almost 4 hectares (10 acres). Most buildings and other objects of the Zoo were preserved. The first important objects built by 1993 were a footbridge (featuring expositions of Japanese macaque, fin-footed mammals, North American raccoons and an aviary), an exposition of predator birds, and an open-air cage complex for small- and medium-sized cats (leopards, Pallas's cats, and lynxes). The footbridge connected two areas of the Zoo by crossing the traffic-congested Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Street. The exposition of predator birds is built on the shore of a large pond and is a net-covered system of aviaries situated near a 10-meter (33-feet) high artificial rock. Despite the fact that bird relocation always raises a lot of problems, the eagles already started reproducing in their new aviaries.
What followed was the reconstruction of one of the most notable expositions of the Zoo, the Animal Island. Architects and construction workers managed to preserve the original appearance of this wonderful object that optimally approximates the natural conditions. Now the Animal Island is inhabited by Siberian tigers, striped hyenas, and Asian black bears that already started reproducing. A pair of Asiatic lions recently arrived to the Animal Island. They were sent to Moscow in the framework of the European Endangered species Program (EEP); the male lion was born at the Helsinki Zoological Park and the female lion was born at the British Chester Zoological Gardens. The first floor of the artificial rock hosts an exposition called Exotarium that displays small sea aquariums.
In 1994 to 1995, the following was reconstructed: a large pond for waterfowls and flamingos, expositions of Przewalski's horses and antelopes, open-cages of cheetahs and spectacled bears, the Auroch Hill for mountain ungulates, and the Polar World inhabited by polar bears and other polar animals. On the pond of the "second" area, islands and a small house for gibbons were constructed.
A new household building and a new animal medicine research complex were built. An Australian exposition (kangaroos, black swans, and emus) and a South American exposition (capybaras and guanaco that already had their first young ones) were opened in the vicinity of the main entrance. In 1996, the main entrance itself (featuring a small artificial waterfall) was reconstructed. The Bird House and aviaries for penguins were completed. The same year the old, dilapidated elephant complex was demolished; a new elephant complex was built there. The inhabitants of the elephant complex (four African elephants and four Asian elephants including a one-year old calf) were moved to a temporary dwelling (a former tram depot, completely reconstructed and specially equipped).
A new Children's Zoo was opened in the "second" area of the Zoo. Now children may see there live heroes of fairy tales, admire fantastic sculptures, and ride charming small ponies.
By 1997, the first stage of the reconstruction project of the Zoo within the existing confines has been accomplished. A large monkey pavilion is build. It contains four nice warm rooms for apes (gibbons, orangutans, and gorillas). There is a hall for lower monkeys (macaques, guenons, baboons as well as tamarins). An exposition of nocturnal prosimians (lorises, galagos, and mouse lemurs) is situated in the basement. Diurnal lemurs (ruffed lemurs, ring-tailed lemurs, and brown lemurs) inhabit a separate part of the pavilion connected with the main building by an underground passage.
The pavilion for African ungulates (situated in the centre of the New Area) is the best pavilion inhabited by giraffes, antelopes, zebras.
A pavilion for tropical cats is built in the Old Area. It hosts jaguars and clouded leopards. The summer open-air cages of this pavilion are covered by a stainless-steel net, have an adequate number of trees for climbing, and small pools for swimming. Bushes and grass are planted in the cages.
The pavilion for fin-footed mammals is one of the most interesting and beautiful pavilions. The outside pools are 1.5 to 4 meters (5 to 13 feet) deep. The shores of the walrus exposition imitate rocky landscapes of the Sea of Okhotsk. There is a winter exposition of California sea lions and sea cows. The water for the pools is treated at a specially built facility.
A pavilion for water birds is built on the shore of the most picturesque water reservoir of the New Area. This winter garden hosts an exposition of unique Indonesian animals (pigeons, oystercatchers, mynas, and nectarinias). Seven two-storey open-air cages situated along the perimeter of the pavilion are inhabited by ibises, seagulls, cormorants/shags, pelicans, and other species of ciconiiformes.
Since 1991, about 50 objects have been reconstructed and built. Such an impressive reconstruction of the Zoo has been made possible only by participation of the Moscow government and, personally, of the city mayor Luzhkov.
In 1996, the Zoo was allocated 200 hectares (500 acres) of land at the distance of 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Moscow (in the vicinity of the town of Volokolamsk) for constructing a breeding nursery for reproduction of rare animal species. The landscape structure of this strip (containing forests, hills, and water-filled pits) combined with good ecology of the region provides perfect conditions for a nature protection centre. By now, many structures have been already built at the nursery including open-air cages for cranes, predator birds, cheetahs and Far East cheetahs; some animals of the Zoo have been moved to their new homes.
The reconstruction of the Zoo may surely be called a unique (at least a very rare) case when all the expositions are renovated and 50 new objects are built during such a short period of time. Despite the fact that it was difficult for the personnel of the Zoo to work in such hard conditions, they were doing everything possible in order to save the valuable collection of animals.
Based on information provided by Vladimir Spitsin (director of the Moscow Zoo).
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