A zoo in Kharkiv, Ukraine, is scrambling to evacuate the remainder of its animals after its infrastructure was severely damaged by Russian shelling.
Feldman Ecopark “is no more,” founder Alexander Feldman said in a statement on Tuesday after the zoo was “subjected to massive shelling and bombardment” from Russian forces.
The statement said the zoo’s “biggest problem” was large predators, such as lions, tigers and bears, which would pose a major danger to humans if they got out of the zoo and roamed free. Feldman said their enclosures were intact but couldn’t withstand more damage. For that reason, if the zoo can’t find a safe location for those animals to go, it may have to euthanize them.
“It is unimaginably painful to talk about this, but the main priority now is the lives of people,” Feldman said.
Feldman Ecopark emphasized in follow-up statements that euthanasia would be a last resort and that it was still attempting to evacuate animals.
The logistics of transporting large zoo animals safely is complicated even under normal circumstances. During a war, supply shortages, road damage and the constant risk of shelling make it even harder. Many animals are in an intensely stressed-out state after a month of hearing shelling.
Even so, in the last two days, workers have been able to evacuate multiple lions, a jaguar and a panther, the zoo said on social media alongside a video showing lions being transported. Many people in surrounding cities had stepped up to volunteer to assist however they could, the zoo noted on Facebook.
Before this week, numerous animals had already been evacuated, including great apes, turtles, birds, alpacas, one of the lions and a van full of kangaroos and wallabies. Some animals that had the potential to survive on their own and don’t pose an imminent risk to people, such as deer, had simply been set loose.