David Bellamy has sent me a link to the story of a man in Ukraine who has spent 35 days in a cage with lions. Here is a photo for you, and you can see an entire slideshow over here:
Zoo owner and artist Aleksandr Pylyshenko looks out from between bars of a cage, next to female African lion Katya, at a private zoo situated in his yard in the city of Vasilyevka, southeastern Ukraine August 3, 2011. Pylyshenko decided to spend five weeks in a cage with a pair of African lions, Katya and Samson, to get money for improving the lions’ living conditions, according to local media. He is broadcasting it on internet to attract the public’s attention to plight of wild animals in private Ukrainian zoos, which do not get enough fundings.
There is, of course, a certain cultural reality behind this, and I thought my readers might find some background I can provide useful for the understanding of this piece of news.
In the Soviet Union, zoological gardens were extremely popular. We had a really big one in my city and used to visit it often. As a child, I always felt a lot of discomfort at the sight of polar bears, giraffes or elephants stuck in small cages in what was very obviously not a comfortable environment for them. I could never understand how visiting a zoo could be considered fun. I haven’t been to any zoos in North America, so I don’t know what the conditions there are like. Even though I’m not a huge animal-lover (to put it very mildly), I always suffer at the idea that a poor creature is kept away from its natural habitat because people find it enjoyable to gawk at it for some puzzling reason.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, funding for state-owned zoos became very scarce. Many animals simply starved or froze to death during our harsh winters. At the same time, many private citizens came into big money. Post-Soviet nouveau riches competed with each other in how much money each could spend on something completely outrageous. Among them, it soon became prestigious to have an iguana, an alligator, a monkey, a python, or a tiger of their own. There came into existence a huge black market dealing in exotic animals.
Eventually, this situation led to some people opening “private zoos”, like the one owned by the guy in the photo. Anybody can build a cage in the backyard of their house in a village, like he did, bring in some animals, and keep them there. It might seem strange to you that a guy could keep lions, a bear and two lynxes in his backyard just because he wants to, but in Ukraine it’s not a big deal. As the owner says on his website, he bought a lioness for just $3500 + shipping costs.