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Zoo is Latest Prestige Project for Turkmenistan

By News Briefing Central Asia
  • Visitors to a new zoo outside the Turkmen capital Ashgabat. (Photo: IWPR)
    Visitors to a new zoo outside the Turkmen capital Ashgabat. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Many animals like these foxes spend the day seeking whatever shade they can find. (Photo: IWPR)
    Many animals like these foxes spend the day seeking whatever shade they can find. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Enclosures often appear empty because the animals are hiding from the sunlight. (Photo: IWPR)
    Enclosures often appear empty because the animals are hiding from the sunlight. (Photo: IWPR)
  • Zoo building, in the grand architectural style now common in the Turkmen capital. (Photo: IWPR)
    Zoo building, in the grand architectural style now common in the Turkmen capital. (Photo: IWPR)

A new zoo outside the Turkmen capital Ashgabat is intended to be a state-of-the art showcase for the Central Asian state, but visitors say the animals have been left short of water and shade.

The National Wildlife Museum, as it is called, opened its doors for the first time on October 12.

Located in the village of Gökdere, 35 kilometres from the capital, it replaces the old zoo in the city, which was a popular attraction because of its greenery and fountains, but kept the animals in cramped cages. Animals from President Gurbanguly Berdymuhammedov’s private menagerie have also been moved to the new location.

The zoo is spread out over 40 hectares divided into has four outdoor zones – an “African savannah”, predators, ungulates, and an aviary, plus an indoor aquarium.

The open-air plan is short, however, on plants to provide shade and areas of water. In this desert region, temperatures are still over 30 degrees Celsius in October.

"We stood in a queue almost a kilometre long just to get in," said lecturer at Ashgabat’s Medical University who visited early on. "My children loved the aquariums with the fish, but the animals looked in poor condition because of the heat. They are having a tough time of it; it seems they have a problem with water here."

Other visitors also noted that animals like bears, rhinos and hippos were suffering from the lack of shade and water.

An environmentalist who came to see the conditions the animals were being kept in said they were hiding in the corners of their enclosures. "They are all kept out in the open in direct sunlight, so they’re seeking shade behind buildings. I haven’t any animal feed in the enclosures – are they being fed at night?"

An employee at the zoo acknowledged there were “temporary difficulties", as there was construction work going on nearby which was consuming much of the water available locally.

This article was produced as part of IWPR’s News Briefing Central Asia output, funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.