Dolphins in the Can

On July 12, 2012, Kyiv City Council adopted a Decision on the construction of oceanarium on the site of the unfinished premises for monkeys in Kyiv Zoo. This Decision was adopted not in accordance with the Ministry of Natural Resources and contrary to the Zoo territory development plan.
On September 21, 2012, Alexey Tolstoukhov resigned from the post of General Director of the Kyiv Zoo. Negotiations about a new director are still going on in Kyiv City Government Administration (KCGA). According to the mass-media, KCGA administration intends to appoint Eugene Kirilyuk as Director. He had held the post of director of the Zoo in 1998-2006.
Ukrainian NGOs are concerned that Eugene Kirilyuk will become a lobbyist of the building of oceanarium in the Zoo that will contain the Dolphins. Workers of the Zoo fear that in the future some other areas of the Zoo may be alienated to private enterprises.In a few weeks, financial agreement for this construction of oceanarium will be signed by KGCA and the investor. The proposed candidate for the post of General Director of the Kyiv Zoo fully approves these plans.
NGO “National Ecological Centre of Ukraine” submitted an open letter to the Chairman of the Kyiv Administration Oleksander Popov, which sets forth the position of NECU on the matter of the Kyiv Zoo and offers a competition for the post of Director General of the Zoo.  The text of the open letter is here (in Ukrainian).
Please support us! Now the matter of who will be the director of the Kyiv zoo depends on the active public response. We demand that this post is occupied not by the lobbyist of commercial keeping of dolphins in captivity!


Oleg Andros +38 097 502 75 51, androsland at

In addition, please read the article of Oleg Andros which describes the situation with oceanarium in Kyiv Zoo. It was published in Ukrainska Pravda Internet magazine on 09.03.2012.

Dolphins in the Can

Oleg Andros, PhD in political science, Kyiv, Ukraine

Dolphinariums and zoos – what should we do with them? Animal protection and environmental organizations have been asking this question for decades. Let’s try to answer it using Kyiv as an example.

On the territory of Ukraine in Black and Azov Sea three species of cetaceans live – bottle-nosed dolphin, Azov dolphin, common dolphin. The population of bottle-nosed dolphins is 5-10 thousand, Azov dolphins – 3-4 thousand, common dolphins – 3-4 thousand, while before the commercial hunting of dolphins their population counted up to several million.

In 1994 all Black Sea Basin dolphins were included in the Red Book obtaining the status of Endangered and Vulnerable. According to the Law “On the Red Book of Ukraine” the use of these species is allowed in exceptional cases for research and selection purposes only. The law also directly prohibits commercial use of dolphins.

Dolphinariums built in several cities of Ukraine have no documents and permits for retaining dolphins, the inspections by the State Ecological Inspection of Ukraine found numerous severe violations of environmental laws. Thus there are no permits from the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Ukraine for holding sea animals in captivity, permissions of the State Veterinary Medicine Committee. Each time using the dolphins in entertainment captivities breaches the requirements of Art. 7, 8, 25 of the Law “On Animal Protection from Cruelty”.

But the dolphinariums march on, this time in Kyiv.

On March 15, 2012 the civil society organizations National Environmental Centre of Ukraine and the Green Future Kyiv nature protection squad will picket the Kyiv City Council with a requirement not to place dolphins in the Kyiv Zoo oceanarium.

The issue with oceanarium construction in Kyiv Zoo is resolved by Kyiv City Administration. The preparation work is carried out now, and shortly a shabby house of a dilapidated monkey house may turn into a posh oceanarium. Kyiv administration officially announced its plans to put dolphins and pinnipeds in the oceanarium.

According to certain data the construction will progress at a rapid pace and the building will be completed till Euro-2012 (which is barely possible). But the timeline is not critical. The issue is whether it is acceptable to hold dolphins in the Kyiv Zoo?

If yes, all subsequent questions are futile. If the environment protection officials adamantly refuse, the question would inevitably arise, how a “dolphin in the can” life with a small space for a sea animal differs from a wild animal life in enclosure?

Moreover, which position is taken by environmentalists protesting against the oceanarium? If these people, the so-called abolitionists (radical wing of animal protection movement), they should object against the existence of enclosed spaces for animals at all, as well as against slaughterhouses and other places and types of animal exploitation. If the movement against commercial dolphinariums observes the “animal welfare” concept, it does not object to zoos and dolphinariums, but advocates “humane” conditions of animal keeping. This is a very approximate scheme.

National Ecologic Centre of Ukraine, Nature protection squad movement and other participants of the campaign against commercial dolphinariums have taken an intermediate position in this ideological dispute which has been going on for several years in several countries. To be more precise, the participants simply omit ideology issues.

Regarding the first question there is an answer: if the zoo inhabitants live in more or less natural-like environment, se the trees, hear sounds of nature and breathe with regular air, it is simply impossible to create authentic conditions for a dolphin (accurate chemical composition of water, significant space to move, customary food).

Regarding the second question. The campaign is aimed to close all the dolphinariums not connected to the sea. The second aim of the campaign is to block for the commercial dolphinariums owners the source for constant refilling of their collection – illegal dolphin catching in the Black Sea, supplies from Russian Federation and even Japan.

If the law is strictly obeyed, after several years of such policy the dolphins in the dolphinariums will die of natural causes. There will be no replenishment, as the Red Book of Ukraine animals taking from natural environment and their import are prohibited. There will be only one replenishment source left – captive breeding of dolphins. The experience shows that these animals rarely breed in captivity. For a rapidly revolving business this is an unfeasible and unreliable source of animals for shows. .

Thus the “animal welfare” problem, in this case dolphins fall on the wayside and there shall be no disputes on this issue. The nature protection specialists have a clear scheme – there is a law – it is obeyed – no dolphins remain in the dolphinariums.

Another issue is that the laws are not obeyed in this country, dolphinarium business has grasped the powers and officials simply ignore the laws. Lately the Minister of ecology and natural resources has satisfied certain public requirements, for example, freed the bears from private ownership and built a shelter for them in Synevyr. But these “liberation” efforts of the Ministry of nature are not aimed at dolphinarium business.

Let’s consider nuances of the situation. Oceanarium and dolphinarium are planned for construction on the Kyiv Zoo territory. How and from which perspective does Kyiv ecological community see Kyiv Zoo in future?

Let’s first have a look at what it is now. Zoo is an object of the natural reserve fund in addition to being a community-owned enterprise. The Zoo’s land – Shulyavska brook – has environment conservation status and cannot be converted into any other use than preserving the remaining plots of wildlife in Kyiv. Although this was overlooked by some animal protection organizations. In particular, straightforward call to close the zoo was voiced by John Ruane, President of Naturewatch Foundation, the Great Britain animal protection organization on November 11, 2010.  

The English animal protection activist considers unsatisfactory living conditions of animals a reason to close the zoo. Thus animal protection considerations of radicals prevail over nature protection. But let’s consider which results will be brought forth by Kyiv Zoo closure.

A natural reserve object will be destroyed by inevitable development of Shulyavska brook. There has been an overt struggle for this land between business structures as the place is a “goldmine” from all perspectives. Based on the most superficial evaluations only land where Kyiv Zoo is located costs USD 410 million.

Second issue. Where the animals will be distributed? Especially if we take into account, in particular, a tiger having specific tiger disease who would not survive in the natural environment. And in which natural environment – on its native land?

If abolitionism wins these animals are doomed. The animals will be relocated, it is not clear where. A part of them would die during relocation, as most of them cannot be transported (Just imagine an elderly hippo Bresta being transported in a van). A valuable natural protection territory, Shuliavska brook, will be immediately demolished by development.

Instead the nature protection activists should present a constructive program of Kyiv Zoo growth. It may include the following: transformation of Kyiv Zoo into a biopark, metamorphosis of the very idea of the zoo from an entertainment for humans to wild species protection.

Stopping animal purchases from other climatic zones. Aiming to make the zoo a center of storing or long-timekeeping of animals confiscated form contrabandists and poachers. Those might be confiscated in great numbers, if one is willing to do so, from Siberian tigers to brown bears.

On the All-Ukrainian scale we should demand from the Ministry of nature to improve the Rules for keeping wild animals in captivity: increase the standard space for keeping them, prohibit ownership of wild animals (the Rules in this provision contradict with the legislation on the Red Book of Ukraine), their use in the shows, in particular, in circuses.

The public should require from the Verkhovna Rada to adopt a legislative act regulating the mechanism of confiscation of the animals listed in the Red Book. And, naturally, it is absolutely unacceptable to hold dolphins and a number of exotic fish species and other sea creatures in facilities like the planned oceanarium in Kyiv.

Bioparks are a matter of interest for Europe. Their experience is showcased, for example, by a biopark in the Spanish city of Fuengirola, where ”immersion into natural environment” is practiced.

The state should provide financial support for the training of staff for such bioparks and the natural reserve fund objects. In the post-Soviet times professions connected with animal care – animal specialists etc. – became less prestigious, there are vacant positions for these specialists in biology faculties. And the state budget does not envisage funding of conservation areas and national parks in 2012 at all.

After fulfillment of the above demands the zoo will finally comply with the goals declared in the “Regulation on Kyiv State Zoologic Park”: scientific research of animals and preservation of wild species’. It shall cease to be an entertainment object for the public, albeit a doubtful fun – few people would enjoy watching apes in their current pavilion, for example.

Imagine alternatives of holding exotic animals which are also appealing for the visitors (both children and adults) – aqua shows with professional swimmers, spectacular performances without participation of dolphins and other sea creatures. There are examples highlighting this approach – Australia, Canada and other countries have successfully refused to use animals as such in circus shows long ago, and Greece has recently, in February 2012, prohibited such use by law.

Thus the offer by Kyiv business elite as represented by the Kyiv official is fairly retarded as compared to the modern entertainment industry. Use of dolphins with commercial purposes has long ago ceased to be a trend ad is generally considered a barbarism.

Regarding the future of Kyiv Zoo, the animal rescue center must become its principal part, and the creation of a kind of wild animals rescue team must become its priority. It will become possible after the Verkhovna Rada adopts rules allowing to confiscate animals and deliver them to the rescue and rehabilitation centers.

Such zoo would shift priorities from the visitor, a principal source of income (which is, undoubtedly, beneficial for officials and is the main reason for their bias) to preservation and maintenance of ecologic balance created on the territory of Kyiv Zoo. This policy must apply to the natural reserve fund objects – conservation areas and national environment parks.

First published in Ukrainian: Ukrainska Pravda. Kyiv. 

Translated by Irina Babanina.

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