By Sofia Santos
Within days of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian military on 24 February, zoos and wildlife parks across the country started reporting damage to their property. Dozens of animals died due to shelling and fires caused by the bombing.
Over time, the disruption to the logistics of receiving food, medicine and fuel, coupled with the limited safe access to the parks by staff members, left the animals in precarious situations. Many faced starvation, injury and death due to the inability of zoos to heat enclosures, treat wounds or feed them. The lack of green corridors and the Russian military presence in the surrounding areas made evacuations either extremely dangerous or simply impossible.
The desperate situation at zoos led to human tragedy too. Feldman Ecopark in Kharkiv reported the death of several members of staff, including a 15-year-old volunteer. All of them perished whilst attempting to evacuate or feed the animals stranded at the park, sometimes allegedly under fire from Russian military forces.
The Centre for Information Resilience’s Eyes on Russia (EoR) team analysed various photos and videos shared by zoos and members of staff across Ukraine. We identified the tail remains of cluster bombs at the sites; a type of munition that releases smaller explosives in the air, spreading the damage over a large area - causing indiscriminate damage.
The data gathered and analysed by EoR investigators provided clear evidence of the use of this type of explosive against the zoos, their inhabitants, and the staff members. Local and international aid groups coordinated a joint effort to tackle the problems caused by the conflict to save the animals’ lives. Their work has been invaluable to help safeguard animal welfare.
This report continues to build on the body of evidence compiled by CIR and other justice and accountability organisations, providing verified and geolocated open-source evidence of Russia’s targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure, including zoos.
Map of Ukraine displaying the location and name of all the zoos and wildlife parks analysed by EoR investigators.
You can download the full report below