First completed in 1865, the Leningrad Zoo has had its ups and downs over the past nearly century and a half. It isn’t the equal of the world class zoos such as those in San Diego and the Bronx. Still, it is a great sight to see in St. Petersburg.
In 1873 it was taken over by Ernest Rost who helped build up the collection and restore the declining site to its original glory. He introduced circus performances, orchestral performances and luxurious restaurants. For over 20 years under his leadership it housed giraffes, orangutans, African elephants and dozens of other then-seldom seen species.
After his departure in 1897 the Zoo once again went into a fallow period, finally closing in 1909. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the zoo was nationalized along with everything else in the country. The Soviets made modest efforts to keep up the collection, even seeing that the elephant was fed when the city’s residents were not.
Subject to extensive damage during WWII, especially the 900-day long Siege of Leningrad, the Zoo was closed to the public until 1944. Still, the collection grew slowly and held a rhino, a hippo, chimpanzees and others.
It drifted along until the dissolution of the Soviet system, when things began to come back to life. Though the residents voted in 1991 to retain the name (St. Petersburg was called Leningrad during the Soviet years), it was not the same old zoo afterward.
The collection now boasts over 2,000 animals comprising over 400 species. Second in size in Russia only to the famed Moscow Zoo, it is alive with anteaters and other exotic types not commonly found in other zoos. The terrarium houses dozens of interesting snake and lizard species.
It offers regular tours, lectures from zoological experts and has one of the country’s most significant animal research departments. Students compete by means of an exam to become part of the zoo’s Young Zoologist Society.
Visitors will find the zoo well worth a visit at any time of the year. In the spring, they’ll get a chance to see many of the cold weather species such as mink, ermine and deer shed their fur. Occasionally, one can even catch a mating in progress.
Many cold-weather bird species molt at that time of the year, also. When the weather warms up, Leningrad Zoo’s aviary residents come alive with thousands of distinctive tunes that fill the air.
But a visit during the winter can be equally rewarding. The sables, ermines, martens, polar foxes and other winter-oriented animals are at their most active during this season. It’s rare to visit a zoo and see such furry creatures ambling around as they might in their natural habitat.
The Zoo can be reached via the city’s metro (subway) system. Exit at Gorkovskaya station.