tisdag 13 oktober 2020

Happy Birthday! Pregolja in Kaliningrad Zoo is 50 years old. An older elephant with a mixed life.

I will never become or accept extreme animal rights activists. But if theres one elephant, which used to come in my mind, which I thought could have had a better life, it is Pregolja, who gets 50 years today. 

We dont know if she will get any presents from abroad, but her zoo gave her sweet things to eat.

On the pictures she looks in good health, and alltogether a surprisingly example of a well cared for elephant, in spite of mass critisism from abroad. It would have been easy for the zoo to capitulate for animal rights activists, and send away their elephant to an unknown destiny, but the zoo was brave, and saw to Pregolja in the first hand, even with the risk of loosing credit from foreign countries. 

This is true love for an animal, and I think Kaliningrad Zoo earns a price for their courage and dedication to take a life long responsibility for their elephant, regardless the price.

I believe that there must be some dedicated elephant keepers there, who will try to make her happier today, than usually.  I also belive that those keepers try to do do a descent work every day, and the fact that Pregolja is still living, and getting 50 years old, is an indication that at least she is taken good care of. Her life could certainly be better, but also worse. Shes spared the destiny of the 9 000 elephants that  during three years, starved to death between 1971 and 1974 in Tsavo East, often referred to as some sort of paradise, and "where elephants belong". Life in the wild is not always that great. Please try 48 hours, without a tent and a lot of protection, in the nearest forest, and I think you will get my point, after your return to your favourite coffee table. 

Nature is not a Disney film. And life in the wild nature is not for losers, and even the winners will face many challenges. However, I think poor old Pregolja could have had a better life. What is her story?

The female Asian elephant Pregolja was born 1970-10-12, 50 years ago today, in present Kaliningrad Zoo, which was, before world-war II,  called Königsberger Tiergarten, when the city of Kaliningrad was called Königsberg, until 1946. Today Kaliningrad is a city in the Russian enclave Kaliningrad Oblast, part of the present Russian Federation, located on the coast of the Baltic Sea.

(Some of the historical parts below, are cited from from Wikipedia) 

During the Middle Ages, the territory of what is now the Kaliningrad Oblast was inhabited by tribes of Old Prussians (Sambians) in the western part and by Lithuanians in the eastern part. The tribes were divided by the rivers Pregolya and Łyna. The Teutonic Knights conquered the region and established a monastic state, and the region became Germanised, and later part of East Prussia, until world war II, and in August 29, 1944, Königsberg became Russian. Over two million people fled before the Red Army and were evacuated by sea, while:

The President of the United States and the British Prime Minister have declared that they will support the proposal of the Conference at the forthcoming peace settlement.

 Königsberg was renamed Kaliningrad in 1946 in memory of Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Mikhail Kalinin. The remaining German population was forcibly expelled between 1947 and 1948. The conquered territory was populated with citizens of the Soviet Union, mostly ethnic Russians but to a lesser extent also Ukrainians and Belarusians.

The German language was replaced with the Russian language. In 1950, there were 1,165,000 inhabitants, which was only half the number of the pre-war population.

 Where were the others? Maybe we will never know, where one and a half million ended up. OR, if they even survived? With force, expelled from their homes, their country, and their society...

Enough about human history, although it has had a large impact on Pregoljas life destiny. She was born, and has spend all her life , in Kaliningrad Zoo (former Königsberger Tiergarten) .

Königsberger Tiergarten, today Kaliningrad Zoo,  was founded in 1896. 125 years ago. It is one of the oldest zoological gardens in Russia, and one of the largest., and it comprises 315 species with a total of 2264 individual animals (as of 2005),, in an area which extends over 16.5 ha.

From the zoo's opening to 1945, five female Asian elephants resided at this location. Several names and most dates are unknown, though it is known, regardless of how many were owned at the time, noone survived World War II.

Pictures from 1911 show the elephant Jenny giving a ride to children in the Königsberg zoo. her keeper looks pretty relaxed on the photo. Together, they had their routines, every day, and developed together. 

Jenny, from my professional eyes, looks pretty healthy and strong, and may have had a pretty good life, compared to starving elephants in Africa, where during years of draught, 50% of the babies dies out of starvation. I havnt found any records for Jennys death. At least another three elephants lived in the zoo, until the war. But at least one elephant were actually shipped to Germany in 1939, when the war started. Her name is Tuzinka, and she was born in Warsaw Zoo 1937-04-16, daughter of Jas and Kaska II (Kasia, Katschi), elephants who have their stories, which is not the subject of this article.

Tuzinka was transferred 1939 to Berlin by the order of Lutz Heck, director of Berlin Zoo. I prefer to imagine that he wanted a rare zoo born elephant, to be transferred as far as possible from a war zone, when the war broke out, although his reasons may have been others. Unfortunately Tuzinka died anyway. Only one elephant in Berlin zoo survived the war, the Asian bull Siam:

Siam, together with 90 other animals (out of 3,715) survived the second world war, and the bombings of Berlin Zoo.Interestingly, most World War II "trivia" sites inaccurately repeat the myth that "The first Allied bombs to fall on Berlin killed the zoo's only elephant." The truth is that the Berlin zoo never had only one elephant, and the bombs that fell on the city in 1944 killed seven of the zoo's elephants, leaving Siam the sole surviving pachyderm. Somehow, this has been distorted over time and the myth has been turned into "amusing" trivia for war buffs. 

So likely, from a zoologists point of view, Lutz Heck may have wanted this specimen to be safe and far away from war. And not one elephants from my pre-war list in Königsberger Tiergarten seem to have survived the war. RIP. Maybe they were even eaten, like Pollux and Castor in Jardin d´Acclimatation in Paris, France, who during new years eve in 1870, was served as dinner, during another war...

Back to the birthday child Pregolja. Her parents were Jimmi (Jimmy) and Shanda (Shandra). Both parents arrived to Kaliningrad in 1960, and according to Jana Havlová, at least the father Jimmie came from a animal trade hub called Zoo-Centrum Moskwa (Objed), arriving to a country administered by the planning committee of the Lithuanian SSR, although it had its own Communist Party committee.

Shandra, being born in the wild in 1953, had three babies with Jimmie, and died 1974 in hart failure. 


On the picture we can see a brave keeper of Jimmie, a person belonging to older generations, who managed to to work this bull with large tusks, for many years. I have no clue of the persons name.

EEG, the European Elephant Group, state in the book Elefanten in Zoo und Circus, (Haufellner, Kurt, Schilfarth, Schweiger) that Jimmi, born 1941 wild in Sri Lanka, arrived in Kaliningrad Zoo in 1950, while EEP claim he arrived in 1960.  Jimmie sired a total of 8 babies between 1968 and 1995, of which Pregolja, born 1970, is the sole survivor today, after his daughter Marta/Candy died in Yerevan.

But from those 8 babies Jimmie sired, only three was with Shandra. The other was with his daughter Pregolija. So, Marta's/Candys father Jimmie was also her grandfather, she was the fourth calf her father sired with his daughter Pregolia. How could this be?

Of Jimmie and Shandras babies, two were stillborn or killed by the mother, and only Pregolia survived. And Shanda died in hart failure 1974, leaving her 33 year old father Jimmie, and her 4 year old daughter the only of their species in Kaliningrad Zoo. 

And of course the elephant keepers let the elephants be together. Pregolja grew up with her father, and they had bred 5 babies. All of them, except one died after some days, or were killed by Pregolja after the birth. For some reason, and my guess is that a keeper saved the last baby, one baby survived;

Pregolias daughter Candy/Marta, her last baby, was born in 1995, and lived until 2008, when she died in Yerevan Zoo, to which she were deported from circus Durow, after she crushed elephant trainer Alexander Terekhov in elephant stable at Durovs Little Corner theater, in Moscow, in 2001. 

February 23, 2001: Russian Circus Elephant Crushes Trainer to Death - An elephant crushed its trainer to death after a performance at a Moscow theater, employees say. Two employees at Durov's Little Corner, a small animal theater named after a famous family of circus performers, said trainer Alexander Terekhov had been crushed to death in the elephant's pen after the evening performance. "We're still investigating the incident," one of the employees, who did not give his name, told Reuters Thursday. Interfax news agency said ambulance workers confirmed the incident.

Something the mother Pregolja doesnt have a clue about. her father Jimmie died the same year, in 2008, 59 years old, and since then Pregolja havnt seen any elephants. her closest friends are her care takers, and possibly some daily visitors she knows since years, who may bring some sweets for her.

Since the nineties, the zoo has been criticised, and pushed to send Pregolja somewhere, which they have refused, arguing that staying in her home is the best for her.


 The picture of Pregolja, turning her back to us, doesn't mean we have to turn our back to her. But this doesnt mean we must judge her home. And to be honest, in spite of the iron spikes and the small enclosure, the elephant Pregolja on the picture looks rather healthy and strong. Her enclosure may, or may not, have been modernized and enlarged, since this photo was taken. We may think it looks bad.

But this is where she was born, where she grew up, and what she is used to accept as her home.


I dont know if her house has been changed, but this was her home at least some years ago. People may criticize, may think its cruel, or whatever, for Pregolja this is the environment she knows as her home since she was born. This is her safety, her personal environment. We actually dont have a clue how much she enjoys or suffer in this stable. Most probably she have no clue that some people regard happiness in the amount of meter it is to the next wall. If the next wall is far away, according to those people you should be happier. Pregolja, on the other hand, may have different measurements. 

Like, if she gest bread with her evening food or not. Carrots, and how much? Is there a variation in diet? If you imagine visiting an older relative in a nursery, you may see similar needs. Older persons doesnt really discuss how large a room is, or if the responsible person is a professor or a doctor, a mailman or a vacuum cleaner. BUT they may be particular with how salty the daily soup is. Or why noone sings, or play a guitar. And why they close the lights at 8. 

Today Pregolja is 50 years old, and its a bit late to start consider what social needs she may have in terms of other elephants, or wherever she could be moved. Statistically, very few elephants at this age, survive a relocation to a new place, regardless if its politically labelled as "sanctuary" or not, often they die after a short time. And far away, women will write poems that "at least she was loved her last years etc" poems from their fantasy world, where they reject the truth, that the animal which was "saved" did not survive the relocation. It died shortly afterwards, and it did not at all walk over a rainbow.

Animals like elephants are like old people, they are habituated to different environments and daily routines, which make them feel safe. They dont define their their daily quality iin square meters, or how many playmates they have. Some of them die short time after they are moved, simply because they get terrorized by the new "friend". All those consequences are hidden, forgotten, and neglected when the animal rights people hammer their keyboard, and let the world know that they are in fact elephant experts, and know better than elephant keepers, curators, veterinarians and directors, who know a specific elephant half their lives. 

IF and when, we want to enrich the life for elephants as Pregolja, who at least survived well for fifty years, and didnt have to starve to death, like her sisters in Tsavo National park, I guess we should ask the people around her, how we can make things better. Instead of placing them ina corner of shame, it would make sense to ask her keeper, what makes Pregolja happy? What food or titbits does she prefer? 

The worst thing that could happen is if people would demand that she should be moved, not considering her personal needs. Like what happened with Finlands last elephant Vanni, who died in Nikaloaev zoo shortly after her relocation. I worked with Vanni in 2000, and she was a rather happy and positive elephant, accepting even children going into her box. She simply loved anyone. Except the elephant in the zoo where she was moved, she stopped eating and died. She would probably have lived today, if she would still be in her home in Finland. Theres many examples like this, and always when the elephants are moved to a "sanctuary", animal rights people are happy, and if the elephant dies, they say that "she walked over the rainbow". I argue that this is not welfare, this is politics, and stupidity.

Theres numerous petition sites and forums about Pregolja, where thousands of peoples signed something they actually dont have a clue about. And if Pregolja would be moved to a "sanctuary" they would clap their hans two weeks, and if she would die after a year, they would be silent, or repeat the "walk-over-the-rainbow-mantra. But in reality, they wouldnt really care anymore.

If theres anything we want to do for Pregolja, the start would be to ask her staff and people around her, what they think could be improved, and what they think could enrich her life. Maybe she would like to have more tree branches to eat? Cutting down branches and transport to a zoo is costly, but most elephants enjoy branches a lot. Or is she fond of fruits? Does she have pain in her legs, and would enjoy expensive pain killers? Does she enjoy visitors, who feed her bananas or biscuits?


As we can see on this picture from her birthday, she like fruits.


Today Pregolja is fifty, and she can probably become older than her father, who died at sixty. 

To be the only elephant in the country can be seen as tragical. And unnatural. For Pregolja, who was born in Kaliningrad, this is all she knows. The people around her, who take care of her. The smells and sounds in the air. The rain, the temperature, the daily life. All those things she grew up with, is part of her life. Maybe, but only maybe, memories of her father, and even her mother, who died when she was four years old. But this is 46 years ago.

Id we really care for her, then I think we should send a positive message to her elephant keepers, her Vet, her Curator and Director, and tell them that we think about her. And maybe ask them if theres anything she needs? That is true welfare. 

Congratulations to a long life, Pregolja! <3 And congratulations to the zoo, who didnt bend their heads for animal rights activists, but consider they have a responsibility for this animal until her death. Not every Asian elephant reach the age of fifty, so considering the conditions, and the history, the zoo has made a good job, and taken care of their elephant well.