The Battle for the St. Petersburg Zoo

The hippopotamus in Leningrad zoo survived the German siege of the city in the Second World War because keepers persuaded him to eat dubious porridge mainly made from sawdust.

Now the 165-year-old zoo, in the Alexander Garden near the Peter and Paul Fortress in the city centre, is under threat again –allegedly because local developers, helped by the governor’s office, want to turn it into a leisure centre.

The battle over St Petersburg zoo involves President Vladimir Putin and Alexander Yakovlev, the city governor. The zoo has had six directors in 10 months, including a woman who lasted three days and a mysterious military officer who refused to tell anybody his rank. For a city trying to clean up its act in time for its 300th anniversary next year, it has not looked good.

The feud first came to public notice when Irena Yakovleva, the governor’s wife, sacked Dr Ivan Korneyev, the zoo’s director for 11 years. Her husband, a powerful politician, had set up a foundation called Zoosad to make plans for the future of the zoo, which is owned by the city.

These plans envisaged moving the zoo to an outer suburb of St Petersburg, where it would be filled with herds of wild animals at a cost of nearly $1 billion. Since no money was allocated, Dr Korneyev believed the real purpose was to use the zoo site to build hotels. He said: “The aim was to convert the Alexander Garden, or at least the zoo part of it, into a leisure centre. The animals’ problems were the last thing they ever thought of.”

Dr Korneyev’s attacks drew so much attention that the plan was dropped. But he had become an enemy of the governor’s wife. Mr Putin sympathises but the city owns the zoo. “If the authorities decide to close the zoo tomorrow, nobody can stop them,” said Dr Korneyev, adding that only the mayor’s resignationwould save the zoo.

Nikolai Konotovsky, an official in the governor’s office, claims the position is not so bad and “everything is OK with the animals”. But Valentina Shurganova, its deputy director, who has spent 19 years at the zoo, is gloomy. “The situation was never as bad as it is now,” she says. “We cannot understand what will become of us.”

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings