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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 November, 2003, 21:35 GMT
Russian zoo fights for survival
Snow leopards at Kaliningrad zoo
Leopards face an uncertain future

The traditional "Don't feed the animals" sign features prominently in zoos around the world - but in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, zoo staff too may be secretly hoping that the warning will be ignored.

Sackloads of apples and carrots presented by kindly visitors to keepers are now an essential part of the animals' diet.

Furtive food donations are tossed over the fence,

The zoo is running out of cash, and an urgent appeal to the city's residents is the only thing that has kept the animals from starving, according to a Russian TV report.

Tricks for treats

The zoo was founded in 1896 in what was then the German city of Koenigsberg.

It had only four surviving animals after the city was stormed by Soviet troops during World War II - a deer, a badger, a donkey and an injured hippo.

Brown bears performing for food
Bears dance for a scanty supper

In the decades that followed the zoo grew and prospered, building up a collection of 370 species. But now it looks as though the zoo is about to bite the dust.

With government funding barely enough to pay the staff's wages, cheap hay and cereals are about the only thing that is in abundance.

The zoo's bears have become adept at scrounging food from visitors, happy to perform a trick or two for a treat.

"We owe money for food deliveries, so we have to make do with very little," says Valentina Vasilenko, one of the keepers.

"Every staff member brings apples or berries from home for the animals."

Cold comfort for warm-blooded

Willow sprigs for pregnant kangaroos are a luxury, and although winter is just weeks away, the roof in the tropical animals' quarters is still not finished.

The zoo is using electric heaters to keep temperatures up, but without urgent repairs it is going to be a grim winter.

"We take out loans and pay them back as best we can. There is little we can do," the zoo's manager, Lyudmila Anoka, says.

She has already had to sell some of the animals to save them from starvation and supplement the scanty diet of the rest.

Two female gibbons and a tapir - a creature related to the horse and the rhinoceros - have recently found refuge at London Zoo, and a couple of snow leopard cubs are next in line for asylum in foreign parts.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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