THERE will be nothing for the inmates of the saddest zoo in the world to celebrate in 2016; just the passing of another year spent in hell.
The planet’s worst animal park is probably also its smallest. Just three lions, two bears and two guinea pigs live out their boring, hunger-filled days in tiny cages, displaying all the signs of creatures slowly being driven mad by their unnatural existence.
A billionaire oligarch bought the animals on a whim as entertainment for a parade ahead of one of his wealthy friend’s jungle themed parties.
Now the animals scrape along on a starvation diet of slaughterhouse scraps and scavenged woodland plants brought to them by an elderly couple fighting hard to keep them alive.
The zoo is in the Armenian town of Gyumri, the place where the family of Armenian-American superstar Kim Kardashian come from, but it has been over two years since it saw a paying guest.
The ragged, hungry and bewildered tenants — lioness Mary, seven, and her cubs Geeta, four, and Zita, two, along with bears Masha, four, and Grisha, nine — are cared for by an elderly couple who simply stumbled upon them one day.
The civic authorities refuse to take on any responsibility for them, and the whereabouts of their former owner is unknown. It is left to a dirt-poor pair of pensioners named Hovhamnes and Alvina Madoyan to care for them.
“I lost my job, I had nothing, my wife and I were walking by the deserted zoo when we heard these terrible cries of animals in torment,” Hovhamnes said.
“We came in to see the lioness and her cub literally frothing at the mouths from lack of water.
“My wife and I can’t bear to see God’s creatures in pain.”
“We fetched water from them and then organised some meat from a local slaughterman. That is how we scrape by, feeding them what we can muster. It is the same for the bears.
“We moved into an old shed near the lion enclosure to be near to them five months ago. They are sad and lonely and, when they can be bothered, pace up and down their cages, showing the signs of being driven mad by boredom and inactivity.
“We cannot get anyone to help them. The previous owner was stuck in some kind of feud with local mobsters, the government doesn’t want to get involved and it is the animals who suffer.”
His wife Alvina went on: “I get up every morning and go into the woods to find food for the bears, but it is never enough. If I am lucky some people donate some oats and cereal which we can make into a kind of porridge for them.
“They are deeply unhappy, spending hours swaying to and fro, to and fro, because they have been slowly driven mad by their incarceration.
“Last week were lucky to have been given the body of a baby foal to feed to the lions. It is not often they get a feast that big.”
Once in a while a vet might pop in to examine the animals from outside the cages. But no-one has any money to pay for a proper examination.
The plight of the Armenian zoo creatures has been taken up by Born Free which is trying to muster a rescue effort in Armenia to transfer the captives to better surroundings.
The group, which has animal sanctuaries for endangered orang utans in Borneo, is concerned that a harsh winter might prove lethal for the lion cubs. A spokesman said: “The fate of these animals should not be dependent on the philanthropy of an elderly couple who barely have enough for themselves.
“They endure in terrible conditions. We need to try to get enough money for them to be moved to a place where they can be better cared for.”
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