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24 May, 2010 02:57

Dark page of trip to fairytale

One of the oldest zoos in Ukraine’s Crimea, standing at the foot of picturesque mountains, is called Fairytale. And any visitor here quickly gets the feeling as to why.

The Yalta zoo unites over a thousand birds and animals of different species – sometimes most exotic ones. But its main feature is easy access, as most of them walk right next to you.

The owner of the zoo, Oleg Zubkov, says his animals don’t feel as if they are in captivity. To prove the point, he took an RT team inside the cages of some dangerous species. At first, the cameraman felt a little nervous.

But he calmed down: “Don’t worry. She looks mean, but here she is like a friendly home pet.”

Zubkov says it is a matter of your approach to animals which makes these wild beasts friendly towards humans.

“Some of the lions and tigers grew up here. And we treat them in such a way that they grow completely friendly towards people. Every visitor can play with them and they stay friendly for the rest of their lives.”

The zoo was opened 15 years ago and became the first of its kind in the former Soviet Union. Now it is hugely popular – tens of thousands come here every year. However, the path to that popularity was a rocky one.

“15 years ago this place was empty. I took this part of the land and turned it into a unique zoo. But here – in Yalta – every bit of land is crazily expensive. And local bureaucrats couldn’t let such wealth slip away – even for the sake of a unique park,” the owner remembers.

At first, local officials tried to hit the zoo with an astronomic tax bill. But then Oleg protested in a spectacular way – with the help of his animals.

“I took some of my monkeys – gibbons and orangutans – and drew banners saying “No to animals among the authorities”. I took them to the local tax office. We easily entered the building – the reception secretary was too shocked to react. We went straight to the management and told them – stop destroying us.”

That move was convincing enough and taxes were eased. But last year, those hunting for the property returned – with brutal tactics.

“They’ve been holding annual tax checks. And everything was fine, our books have been clean. But then somebody sneaked inside our zoo and poisoned the animal food. As a result, 11 animals died,”
Zubkov told RT.

A dark page in the history of Yalta’s zoo is reflected at the very entrance to the park. A stand with pictures of the dead animals acts as a reminder of those events. Just recently another attempt at poisoning the animals was made – but this time they survived. Oleg says this will not go unnoticed and he will find those responsible.

But while his fight continues, children who come here know nothing about these issues. For them it is, after all, a trip to a fairytale.