GB No. 11, spring 1993


Polish zoos are being protected by armed guards night and day. In the curriculum vitae of the security men you might find entries about previous jobs in police or military special units. In spite of all this the theft of animals still occurs from time to time. The most valuable specimens are smuggled abroad. From the way the criminals behave it appears that they are acting strictly under orders on commission. Other dangerous groups include traditional Greens, maniacs and sodomites.

Antoni Gucwinski, Director of the Wroc3aw Zoo, is convinced that the real purpose of the thieves who depleted the aviary collection at Warsaw Zoo was the condor, the black market value of which is hard to estimate. The stealing of eagle owls, an owl and a raven were just a smoke-screen to mislead the investigators. That's why the other birds were quickly retrieved.

According to Mr. Gucwinski, the theft of animals happens in zoos throughout Europe, commissioned by breeders or laboratories. Duisburg Zoo recently lost a beautiful kakadu. It was discovered in a married couple's apartment. Dead and stuffed. It had served as a present to mark a family occasion.

Security at Wroc3aw Zoo costs 25 million PLZ [Pounds 1000] a month. Nevertheless, it's hard to keep a constant eye on six thousand animals dispersed over an area of 40 hectares. The thieves employ smart tactics. They split up into two groups, and while one provokes an incident distracting the attention of the staff of the pavilion concerned, the other group gets at the cage or terrarium. Birds or reptiles are the most frequent losses.

Fanatical animal rights supporters are another source of trouble. Once they held a "Free the Lion" demonstration outside Wroc3aw Zoo. Director Gucwinski was inclined to hand over nine of the twelve lions on site, even supplying them with food for the trip, providing he were told in advance of the place where they would be set loose. Unfortunately the demonstrators, surprised by the offer, were not able to give precise information as to their plans. The Condor Stakes

Apparently in the affluent farmers' homesteads out in the country, which have already been fitted out with videos and satellite dishes, and with a good car in the garage, it's becoming trendy to have something live crawling about, a boa for instance.

The animal craze is being fashioned by television. That's why Mr. and Mrs. Gucwinski have stopped displaying the most valuable specimens in their TV programme on animals. One day they showed off a rare and beautiful species, the discus fish. A few days later the exotic fish had disappeared - the thief had broken into the aquarium pavilion through the roof, under cover of darkness.

Another danger for the inhabitants of the zoos are hooligans. Once they played a practical joke(?) by plucking a live condor. Then there are the sexual perverts, who pose a threat to the antelopes, llamas and donkeys. There was a rape case involving a pelican. The animal died.

In the opinion of Jan Omia3owski, Director of Poznan Zoo, and Andrzej Sosnowski, Director at LódY, the most important thing is effective supervision. At Poznan, the staff earn extra money on overtime as security guards. They are aided by good locks and padlocks, and electronic alarm systems on the cages. There have been no thefts in the past five years. Before that time a valuable collection of pheasants went missing.

Poznań Zoo has just received a gift of six eagles from the regional government of Lower Saxony. They had been confiscated by a special German animal security service whose business is the retrieval of smuggled animals. It took a year to identify the birds. They had most probably reached Germany from the Commonwealth of Independent States, via Czecho-Slovakia, though the breeder in whose possession they were discovered claimed they had been born in captivity. He even named the parents and it was only genetic testing that proved him wrong.

To avoid similar wrangles, Western European zoos are putting identification tags under the skins of their animals. With the help of electronic decoding devices the information registered on the tags may be "read," identifying the animals and their place of origin. Polish zoos are to get this kind of ID-cards for their animals, too.

Kraków Zoo is reputed to be one of the best protected in Poland. Armed guards are on patrol day and night. What they've caught red-handed have been a couple of would-be burglars interested in the refreshment kiosks. There have been no animal thefts since the 1970's, says Andrzej Wojtusiak. Manager for the monkey-house and aviary.

Be that as it may, with all the commandos and the electronics, what is really needed is protection by the law. It's a few years since Poland ratified the Washington Convention, which regulates the international trade in wild animals. But we still haven't got any rules of conduct making it possible for persons who break the Convetion's principles to be prosecuted. Zygmunt Krzeminski, Director of the Nature Protection Department at the Ministry for the Protection of the Environment, told us that he was hoping that the matter would be resolved when the Government acquired powers of decree.

Adam Rymont

translation from "Dziennik Polski" Kraków,
1st February, 1993 by Sigillum Ltd.

GB No. 11, spring 1993 | Contents