An Indian elephant called Boy, the pride of the Kyiv Zoo, collapsed and died in his enclosure. Around the same time, Maya the camel succumbed to a digestive illness, and Theo the zebra died after repeatedly hitting his head into a metal fence.

And there's more, much more... thankfully, the scandal is making news world-wide .    

Animal welfare groups from around the world are calling for the immediate closure of Kyiv Zoo after a shocking spate of animal deaths.

The 100-year-old zoo has recently been dubbed 'a concentration camp for those with fur and feathers', with many suspecting corruption to be at the heart of the problem.

An Indian elephant called Boy, the pride of the zoo, collapsed and died in his enclosure last year.

Around the same time, Maya the camel succumbed to a digestive illness and Theo the zebra died after crashing into a metal fence.

Animal welfare groups say dozens if not hundreds of animals have died at the zoo in recent years due to malnutrition, a lack of medical care and mistreatment.

Naturewatch, a British-based animal welfare group, is among the organizations calling for the zoo to be closed and its animals sent elsewhere in Europe.

'The Kiev Zoo will never attain any basic standards, it's so far removed from any zoo in Europe,' said John Ruane of Naturewatch. 'The conditions have been absolutely horrendous and no matter how many more directors were appointed the situation still remained the same.'

New managers appointed in October said that nearly half of the zoo's animals either died or mysteriously disappeared over two years under their predecessors, and a government audit found that thousands of dollars were misspent as animals were illegally sold and funds earmarked for their food and care disappeared.

Ukrainian prosecutors have now opened an investigation.

But despite the management change, the zoo's animals are still dying. Some activists suspect a secret real estate deal is in the works with the zoo being deliberately decimated so it can be closed down and the prime land that it sits on in the center of Kiev can be sold.

Other violations included the purchase of medication for already deceased apes, paying for hyenas that were never shipped to the zoo, the illegal sale of 12 macaques, the unrecorded sale of zoo tickets and the misallocation of funds earmarked for feeding the zoo's animals.

Once the jewel of the Ukrainian capital and a favorite weekend spot for families, the zoo began to deteriorate after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the years of poverty that followed.

Animals were kept in cramped, poorly lit and poorly heated enclosures, fed improperly and left unattended, according to watchdogs.

The zoo gained international notoriety in 2007 when it was expelled from the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria after the tragic death of a female bear.

The elderly brown bear named Dinara had been moved from a small enclosure where she had spent all her life to a bigger pen with a male Malayan sun bear.

Stressed by the new premises and her new companion, Dinara began to bang her head against the concrete walls of the enclosure, leaving blood stains on the walls and floor. After days of this, she was euthanised.

On a recent visit, the zoo looked desolate. The elephant's pen stood empty, a lonely wolf paced an open-air enclosure, a collection of farm animals was closed to visitors and two giraffes were locked in two small indoor cells.

The zoo's problems have grown worse under the leadership of the city's eccentric mayor, Leonid Chernovetsky, who has been widely accused of mismanagement.

Under his appointed zoo director, Svitlana Berzina, about a quarter of the animals died and another quarter disappeared in the two years before she was ousted in October, according to the new zoo director, Oleksiy Tolstoukhov.

Officials are having a hard time determining exactly how many animals died or disappeared under the previous management. The zoo now has 2,600 animals from 328 species.

Oleksandr Mazurchak, deputy head of the Kiev city administration, said about 250 animals died due to 'problems' during two years under Berzina. The government audit last year also found that 131 other animals were missing.

Mazurchak said 50 animals have died since Tolstoukhov took over, though most from old age. But some deaths could have been avoided, like those of the three fish that died in late December when a power outage stopped the flow of oxygen into their tank.

Defending his record, the new director said the zoo has not purchased any new animals in recent years due to funding shortages and 60 per cent of the zoo's animals are approaching the end of their natural life span anyway.

'It's not as bad as they say,' Tolstoukhov said. 'In all the zoos, including in Europe, animals don't live a million years. They also die and get sick.'

But Volodymyr Boreiko, an ecologist who has monitored developments at the zoo, said in a report last week that the number of animals that have died since the new managers took over in October is closer to 250 and includes a penguin, a crane, turkeys and mongooses. The zoo said his findings are falsified.

Tolstoukhov said the zoo hopes to attract funds to restore existing enclosures and build new ones, and to repair the heating, air conditioning and electric systems. The zoo also plans to acquire new animals, including two young female elephants and 12 blue sheep.

He denied any plans to sell the 34 hectares of land the zoo occupies in central Kiev.

Luisa Kuznetsova, 26, who came to the zoo last week with her 2-year-old twins Kolya and Karina, hopes it can be saved.

She said: 'I want there to be a beautiful zoo here with all the beautiful animals because the kids are growing and the zoo helps them develop,'

But Tamara Tarnawska of the Kiev-based SOS animal rights group believes the zoo must be closed to protect its animals from further abuse.

'The zoo is in such a condition that it's no longer a zoo, it's a concentration camp,' Tarnawska said. 'When I look those animals in the eyes, I am ashamed to be a human being.'

Report and observations by Naturewatch

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