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Warsaw Zoo a Roaring Success With Ingenuity

October 5, 1986

By GUY DINMORE, Reuters| October 05, 1986

Los Angeles Times

WARSAW — Monkeys have not seen a banana in years, completion of the new bear pit is late because of a lack of concrete, the tigers’ enclosure is crumbling and llamas will be swapped for cheetahs because Warsaw Zoo has no foreign exchange.

But despite a host of problems that would prompt many Western zoo directors to resign in despair, the zoo is flourishing and successfully breeding rare and endangered species.

The difficulties facing Zoo Director Maciej Rembiszewski reflect the crisis in the Polish economy as a whole and illustrate the ingenuity of managers who try to overcome them.

“My main problem is not a shortage of animals but a lack of labor,” Rembiszewski said, standing in a half-renovated office building abandoned by workers months ago.

A Chronic Lack

The zoo has only four gardeners but needs 12. An extra four keepers are wanted to feed the carnivores. “Everywhere is short of labor,” he said with a shrug and a smile.

Poland’s chronic lack of foreign exchange caused by falling exports and a debt of more than $30 billion means the zoo has no hard currency to buy animals or exotic food.

Because one banana usually costs about $2.50 in private shops and there are almost never any in state stores, the monkeys have to go without.

Bartering Helps

To acquire new animals the zoo has to barter. Soon Rembiszewski hopes to swap some of the llamas he has bred for cheetahs from Namibia (South West Africa) at a rate of three or four to one.

This year the zoo is opening contacts with China. Warsaw will exchange silver foxes, parrots and rare Przewalski horses for water deer and exotic fish.

There are only about 500 Przewalski horses, which used to roam the plains of Mongolia, in the whole world. Warsaw Zoo has 10 and is breeding more.

Rembiszewski, a fish expert who has spent 18 months in Poland’s antarctic station, also looks after radiated turtles and sable antelopes–both endangered species.

Construction Lagging

In a bid to earn dollars the zoo has also set up a quarantine center outside Warsaw for animals in transit, the only one in Europe, he said, to meet U.S. requirements.

The country’s gravest social problem–a serious housing shortage caused by a collapse in its construction industry–is illustrated by the zoo’s planned bear pit.

“The enclosure is several years behind schedule. We need three tons of cement a day but only get from a half to one ton a week,” the director said. The zoo’s newest building is a shelter for giraffes, and that was put up 30 years ago.

Zoo Plundered

Founded in 1928, most of the zoo was destroyed during World War II. Animals were set free or, in the case of its prize elephant, stolen by German troops.

But the zoo fares better than the populace when it comes to meat Poles are rationed to about 5 1/2 pounds per person per month; the zoo obtains ample supplies for its four rare Siberian and Sumatran tigers–who each eat 11 to 15 pounds of horse meat a day.

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