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By 2017 St. Petersburg may have a new Zoo

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The Leningrad Zoo is in for some major changes. There have been numerous attempts to modernize it, each resulting in a failure. Moreover, these attempts have been abysmal not only for the Zoo itself.

In 1913 the Zoo was to be relocated to the Udelniy Park – the WWI changed those plans. The second attempt was made in 1940 – another failure. In the mid-1980’s there was another one – again with no result. In the more recent history, there has been a serious discussion to relocate it to Yuntolovo. There was a ready project which sparked no complaints, but then it turned out that the reserve park’s grounds are absolutely not suitable for the Zoo. And now there’s another dilemma – Rzhevka, Beloostrov or Yukki. And, most importantly, what will happen to the old Zoo? Alexey Mikhalev has all the answers in his report.

It is not the first attempt to modernize the Leningrad Zoo. But this project has a principal novelty. Its construction is universal and would fit in at any place. It was designed by British architect Phillip McCormick – he authored one of England’s largest Zoo parks in Chester.

Irina Babyuk, chairwoman of St. Petersburg government’s investments committee: “Not only we are creating a zoo, but an entire ecosystem – which gives us an opportunity to develop territories”

A suitable land, however, took some time to find. The previous project of the “Intarsiya” company was fine in many ways, but it was planned exclusively for the Yuntolovo area. It turned out to be the stopover place for migrating birds – which often carry infections. So the Zoo would have had to be closed twice a year. Besides, there’s a swamp there. So a question came up: was it worth it at all – to relocate from the Alexandrovsky Garden?

Irina Skiba has been working at the Leningrad Zoo for 32 years. Like no other, she knows that in its modern look the Zoo is totally out-of-date. Pre-revolution buildings are no longer there, but there are still plenty of antiquities. All these ancient cages and thick bars are no longer used anywhere. These are replaced by glass cages, which save space and lets visitors get closer to animals.

Irina Skiba: “A Zoo could be organized even on a small territory. The Bristol Zoo in England occupies only 5 hectares. Yet it’s a very interesting display with rare species of monkeys”

Vladimir Linov: “The Moscow Zoo is also located in the city center – which is not an obstacle for them to have 3 elephants. We don’t have a single elephant here”

It really is an old European tradition – to have a Zoo in the city center. The famous Tiergarten – the beauty of Berlin has one of the largest collections of animals. London’s Regents park – where progeny of those animals gifted by Ivan the Terrible to Queen Elizabeth 1st of Tudors still lives. But the reality is that modern standards require large spaces.

Irina Skiba: “A “visitors” pack of animals – elephants, hippos and rhinos – cannot fit in our Zoo, our territory is too small. According to modern standards, these cannot be kept in small cages”

Here is, for example, the San Diego Zoo – one of the largest in the world. Its size is 730 hectares. It is the scale St. Petersburg is looking at. There are 3 variants: at Yukki, at the Beloostrov area and at Rzhevka. Looks promising. There are nuances, however. Access to Yukki is problematic, the Beloostrov area has protected grounds, Rzhevka has a railroad passing through it.

Alexey Mikhalev, reporter: “In other words, every variant has its pros and contras. But the Rzhevka ground is described as a compromised variant and the most suitable for construction. Around 600 hectares within the city’s limits, comfortable access, close vicinity to CAD – all this would allow the park to have 1.5 million visitors in its first year”

The territory is offered to be split in zones, covered by huge see-through domes. This sort of puts this project on the same level with its Yuntolovo predecessor. No bars – only landscape barriers, reservoirs and glass. The 1st module will be built by 2017. The future of the Alexandrovsky Garden will be decided earlier. According to polls, the Zoo will be kept – in a minimal version

Irina Babyuk, chairwoman of St. Petersburg government’s investments committee: “Citizens see a park area there with a small animal display. We have set a limit of 2 months for the poll. We will draw conclusions and decide this on the Council of the Investments committee”

There are two reasons to keep the Zoo – at least partially – at the existing place. First of all, historic heritage. Its not called the Leningrad Zoo for nothing – it serves as a reminder of exceptional heroism in the years of the blockade, when the Zoo never stopped working and most of its collection was retained. It is, after all, one of the country’s oldest Zoos. And its important for the children who live in similar-looking suburb areas to come here – to keep the spirit of old St. Petersburg.

Vladimir Linov: “It has to be the place where children come regularly – not once in their lifetimes”.

And, importantly – construction of a gigantic Zoo outside of town must not rule out one in the city. There are 5 of those in New York, 4 in Chicago and Tokyo. The closest Zoos to the one in St. Petersburg are located in Moscow and Kaliningrad. 29 for the whole country – its too small. That’s why the new Zoo at Rzhevka will be created not instead of the old inhabitant of the Alexandrovsky Garden, but to accompany it. 

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