Sergey Pavlov, Kazan Zoological and Botanical Garden: ‘We’re pursuing fantastic goals’

A new director of Kazan Zoological and Botanical Garden about the impact of sanctions, plans for further reconstruction and global scientific initiatives

Kazan Zoological and Botanical Garden is working on the creation of a kind of bio material bank to restore the population of rare animals. Equipment for cryoconservation of sex cells, spermatozoids, animal embryos is very pricey, and in this project the zoo hopes for Kazan Federal University’s help — an agreement on cooperation with the university has already been achieved. Believes Director of the garden Sergey Pavlov. He told more about this and other “fantastic goals” of the new management of the Zambezi River, the corrections the sanctions war of the West made to the zoo’s life and a rise in extrabudgetary incomes in an interview with Realnoe Vremya.

“There is no shortage of money”

Mr Pavlov, you are the new director of the renewed Kazan zoo. Is it hard to maintain it nowadays?

The state subsidises us, money is allocated from the republican budget to maintain the zoo (utility bills, security, taxes, food for animals). Extrabudgetary money is spent to buy new animals, their transportation and ongoing repairs on the territory of Zoological and Botanical Garden.

Do you make money now? How much did extrabudgetary incomes grow with the appearance of the Zambezi River?

Ticket sale revenue is our classified information like in any commercial enterprise. I can just say that ticket sales have increased compared to the last year. It goes without saying that there are more visitors in summer than in the low season. And we open the historical territory now for visitors only in summer, from May to September. It is simply unfeasible in winter — the flow of visitors falls even on the new territory. In general three times more visitors go to the new territory of the zoo than to the historical one.

Given the support Kazan Zoological and Botanical Garden receives from the budget for development, I think we are lucky. There are few places investing in the zoological botanical garden as much as in Kazan. Thanks to the support of the republican and Kazan management, we became one of the best zoos in Russia. Specialists from Moscow, Leningrad and other zoos came here and highly praised our accomplishments.

What is the most important thing for an animal at the zoo?

The conditions it lives in. And the right to choice. If it is tired of communicating with the audience, it must have the chance to go, stay alone.

Photo: Maxim Platonov

Don’t you forget to replenish the exposition with endless construction projects?

It is constantly replenished. Now animals from Russia and all parts of the world are in the historical part of the garden. The Zambezi River has only African inhabitants.

Earlier, Kazan Zoological and Botanical Garden actively took advantage of the possibility of exchange between zoos — it hosted and sent animals. Does the exposition in the historical part have such temporary inhabitants or do you buy permanent residents?

We haven’t lately sent and hosted anybody within the exchange programme. But we have purchased new animals for the collection. We have had yellow-throated marten — the largest marten species living in the Ussuri taiga and a forest cat. Also, we have purchased Old World porcupines, yellow mongooses and Egyptian fruit bats.

Relocation is huge stress. Isn’t it possible to do with a temporary cage in the zoo?

It is common to send animals to other zoos for some time, The stress because of construction next to the cage is by far worse. While we prepare them for the relocation step by step: we place the transportation cage to the aviary, the animals gets accustomed to it for some time, gets in and during the trip the cage with the animal is placed into a car with air conditioning. The necessary temperature, humidity this species needs are maintained there.

What other exotic animals you haven’t yet bought but dream to have in your collection?

The exposition in the Zambezi River is almost full, it just needs to be replenished with large animals — elephants, giraffes and rhinos. Last year, we brought three gorillas, the latest is the biggest, alpha male Mowingo came from Austria in late December.

“Animals without plants and trees without birds is nonsense”

Can you characterise the latest changes in the garden in numbers?

As of last year, our collection had 41 species — 221 animals, while now there more 300 inhabitants of 47 species on the new territory of the park. It grows not only by buying animals but also thanks to offspring. For instance, this year, ring-tailed lemurs have had three babies, moreover, one female lemur has had a twin, which is a rarity in nature and hasn’t let them like it often happens in such cases. In case of some discomfort, the female lemur leaves the babies. The nature dictates this: it is more important for her to survive and give birth in better conditions, procreate than die with the babies. De Brazza’s monkey has given birth — she turned out to be an amazing mother, she always keeps the baby in her arms. We cannot even learn the sex — the mother doesn’t let.

The Zoological and Biological Garden is not only a zoo but also a garden. What has changed there now?

There are more than 4,000 plants on the historical territory of the garden, including rare trees that are on the Red Book of the Republic of Tatarstan, we replenish the collection. In general it is the pride of our garden, few zoos in Russia have the botanical part. The combination of botanical and zoological collections is, on the one hand, a rarity but, on the other hand, is considered nonsense. If you go to the forest and there aren’t birds, butterflies, it sees dead, right? So animals without plants and trees as well as trees without birds are considered nonsense. Now there has appeared a tendency around the world to unite zoological and botanical parts, and it is right: there must be harmony in such institutions.

Lunch looking out savannah

The thing is that a zoological and botanical garden without additional entertainments would unlikely satisfy our spoiled audience, people go there to not only learn something new, explore animals but also have some fun...

There is a playground for children with see-saws, slides, sand boxes. There is a climbing wall — it is impossible to get children out of there, parents sometimes scold: ‘We came here to watch the animals but you got stuck here...” But we certainly don’t plan to have fee-based attractions at the zoo.

What about other fee-based entertainments?

We have themes holidays at the zoo, the admission is free. We plan to offer a new service — children’s birthdays: an excursion and lunch in our cafe, the view is very good, an African savannah with animals behind the glass. Ostriches, lechwes, zebras, Somali wild ass. In some time a giraffe will be walking there...

Will there be lectures, a museum?

A museum will open in the historical part of the garden, in Fux’s House. A club of young naturalists will continue its work. It is free, any kid can join it, and we give them classes on Sundays. A month ago, on Doors Open Day, we admitted children, it operates from September to May. Children not only explore animals but also communicate with them, feed them.

Why is it a bad approach when people go to the zoo to simple stare and have fun?

So visitors sometimes write complaints that the bear is suffering from the hot weather, that its tongue is out to cool down because it doesn’t have sweat glands like people, some seem to understand it. But you cannot explain it to everybody. The problem is that many people don’t know many things — hence the distorted idea of what is happening in the zoo and how it should be.

Why contact zoo is needed

Contact zoos have become trendy in the last decades, they have both supporters and opponents considering them as violation of animals. Will have one?

We plan to have a contact zoon on the historical territory of the garden, it will be called the Peasant Household. And contact animals are chosen for such a zoo that are oriented to talk with people, those who love when people touch, feed them. And the latter circumstance — the possibility of feeding animals — is another reason to open the contact zoon. Because it is also a matter of safety of both animals and visitors. Almost every person here considers feeding animals a must. No matter how much you forbid and explain that there is enough food, the animals are full and the treats only harm them — there will anyway be found those who will give a bear a candy and a tiger a cutlet anyway. If at the beginning of the excursion active visitors will see a contact zoo on their way, they will splash all this energy there and won’t poke into carnivores’ cages offering a treat or give them a hand.

Won’t the animals get tired of this effusion of tenderness? How to save them from stress?

Employees will replace the animals that are tired of communication and take them indoors. But some animals love communicating with people. I was on a business trip at the Novosibirsk zoo — goats literally kiss visitors, even if they don’t want to eat.

“The special operation in Ukraine made us look for roundabout ways”

Did you start to have problems with replenishing the exposition because of the special military operation in Donbas?

Yes, because animals need to be transported from different countries by plane, while the flights are prohibited now, the airspace is closed. We are elaborating new logistic routes with our Western colleagues to transport animals to Kazan. Also, when it is not a two or three-hour flight but a long trip with connections, animals are subjected to stress, they can not reach the destination, which cannot be permitted.

Perhaps, supplies of food for exotic animals from abroad have stopped too.

No, no problem with food.

Do rare animals procreate?

Last year, we had a rare case even for European zoos — black vultures had babies. The parents didn’t hatch the birds themselves, they are young, they don’t have the experience yet. The baby was born in an incubator. When it grew up, we sent it to a Chelyabinsk zoo within an agreement on temporary maintenance.

Didn’t you feel pity simply as a human to give the unique bird?

I did! Keepers fed the baby bird, gave it food every two hours. When it was time to say goodbye, they said they didn’t want this to repeat again, as if their own baby was taken away.

White leopards will appear when there is a new enclosure

Didn’t the practice of exchange of animals from other zoos for procreation stop?

No, if there is demand for this species, we bring then. For instance, a white bear has been living here for several years we exchanged in Perm. We brought him for our female bear that has already given birth many times, we thought of having cubs. But there was a problem, the bear didn’t turn out to be suitable for proliferation. He grew up in captivity and is oriented to the human, considers them as partner, not the female bear. The female bear already died, we wanted to send him back, but the Perm zoo doesn’t have a spot for him yet, the area is just being built. Rosneft is now funding his maintenance here, it takes care of all white bears in Russia’s zoos — the bear is its emblem. Now we have made a swimming pool for him, created an area according to all requirements — artificial ice, a tent, a foggy place.

Several years ago Kazan Zoological and Botanical Garden lost white leopards. The white leopard is a symbol of Tatarstan, it is pictured on the emblem of the republic. It is not quite logical that our zoo doesn’t have them now.

The European Zoo Association has already offered us two female white leopards. But we refused because of the reconstruction of a conservatory — it is next to their place. The construction will start, it will be noisy, it is excess stress. And the enclosure itself is old, it doesn’t keep up with the reality. And it will be different after the renovation of the historical part of the garden.

How to conserve the white leopard for descendants

Scientific research has always been done at the Kazan zoo...

Now big research is done here — we report on it at meetings, publish articles. But I would like to say about the main project: we want to create a biobank of rare animals, to deal with the cryoconservation of sex cells, spermatozoids, embryos. Equipment is very pricey for it, we cannot afford it but we agreed with Kazan Federal University that has this equipment, and there is an agreement on cooperation with them. There are foreign colleagues too who are ready to participate in the work, in European zoos, for instance, they work in another but related area — they examine genetic material before pairing rare animals to avoid intermarriages that lead to an extinction of the species. We took one step forward.

Why is cryoconservation needed?

This is a long-term job: if some population will be on the verge of extinction in some 100 years, they will start to disappear, the cells frozen a hundred years ago will “mix the blood” and the population can restore. Or take the species disappearing now — white leopard. With frozen cells we can breed the necessary amount and even the necessary sex, adapt them to the life in nature and let them go, thus saving them for descendants. We are pursuing fantastic goals, and our foreign colleagues are interested in cooperating with us.

Didn’t they disagree with you because of the special military operation?

You know, we are professions who work for one common good, do research, save rare animals. Both we and they are fans of this business, so politics isn’t an obstacle for our links. They consult us when it comes to the maintenance of animals, help to elaborate logistics for their transportation and wait for this situation to end together with us.

Interviewed by Inna Serova
Sports Tatarstan