A zoo in Kharkiv, Ukraine, is scrambling to evacuate the rest of its animals after its infrastructure was badly damaged by Russian shelling.
Feldman Ecopark “is no more,” founder Alexander Feldman said in a statement on Tuesday after the zoo was “subjected to heavy shelling” by Russian forces.
The statement said the zoo’s “biggest problem” were large predators, such as lions, tigers and bears, which would pose a major danger to humans if they left the zoo and roamed freely. Feldman said their enclosures were intact but couldn’t take any more damage. For this reason, if the zoo cannot find a safe place for these animals, they may need to be euthanized.
“It’s incredibly painful to talk about it, but the main priority now is people’s lives,” Feldman said.
Feldman Ecopark stressed in follow-up statements that euthanasia would be a last resort and that it was still trying to evacuate the animals.
The logistics of safely transporting large zoo animals are complicated, even under normal circumstances. During a war, supply shortages, road damage and the constant risk of bombardment make the task even more difficult. Many animals are in a state of intense stress after hearing shelling for a month.
Despite this, in the past two days workers were able to evacuate several lions, a jaguar and a panther, the zoo said on social media alongside video showing lions being transported. Many people in surrounding towns volunteered to help however they could, the zoo noted on Facebook.
Prior to this week, many 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 pose no imminent risk to humans, such as deer, had simply been let loose.