Belgrade Zoo Animals Provide Early Bombing Warning
06:10 a.m. May 30, 1999 Eastern
By Colin McIntyre
BELGRADE (Reuters) - The noise starts around half an hour
before the bombs fall as the animals in Belgrade zoo pick up
the sound of approaching planes and missiles, director Vuk
``It's one of the strangest and most disturbing concerts you
can hear anywhere,'' he said in an interview.
``It builds up in intensity as the planes approach -- only they
can hear them, we can't -- and when the bombs start falling
it's like a choir of the insane. Peacocks screaming, wolves
howling, dogs barking, chimpanzees rattling their cages.''
``I have made a record every hour of each day of when the
animals start acting up. One day, when this craziness is over,
I'd like to check it with reliable data on when the planes were
``Someone could make a scientific study out of it.''
Bojovic said the zoo had been hard hit by NATO's air strikes
campaign aimed at forcing Belgrade to accept an autonomy
deal for Kosovo, particularly when the alliance attacked
Belgrade's power system, and indirectly the water supply.
``I had 1,000 eggs of rare and endangered species incubating,
some of them ready to hatch in a couple of days. They were all
ruined. That's 1,000 lives lost.''
Meat in the zoo's freezer defrosted and went off, making it
suitable only to scavengers like hyenas and vultures. Belgrade
people donated meat out of their home freezers when the
power went down, ``but most of it wasn't even fit for animals.''
The lack of water meant that some animals, particularly the
hippos, were literally swimming in their excrement, he said.
``We had to give dirty drinking water to a lot of pretty delicate
animals. We won't know the effects of that for two or three
months,'' Bojovic said. While the zoo overlooks the confluence
of two major rivers, the Danube and the Sava, both are heavily
polluted by chemical and industrial waste.
The nightly air strikes, with their accompaniment of heavy
anti-aircraft fire lighting up the sky, has had other, possibly
longer-lasting effects on many of the animals, the director
Many of them aborted their young in the latter stages of
pregnancy. Many birds abandoned their nests, leaving eggs to
grow cold. ``If they ever lay again, I just wonder what they will
do with them,'' he said.
Even a snake aborted some 40 fetuses, apparently reacting to
the heavy vibration shaking the ground as missiles hit targets
The worst night the zoo can remember was when NATO hit an
army headquarters only 600 meters (yards) away, with a huge
``The next day we found that some of the animals had killed
their young,'' the director said. ``A female tiger killed two of her
four three-day-old cubs, and the other two were so badly
injured we couldn't save them.''
``She had been a terrific mother until then, raising several
litters without any problems. I can't say whether it was the
detonation or the awful smell that accompanied the bombing. I
personally think it was the detonation,'' he added.
On the same night, an eagle owl killed all of its five young, and
ate the smallest of them. ``It wasn't because she was hungry. I
can only think it was fear.''
The most disturbing case was of the huge Bengal tiger, who
began to chew his own paws. ``He was practically raised in
my office. He trusted humans.''
Looking up into the sky, Bojovic said the constant stream of
NATO war-planes, with their trails of polluting gases,
threatened to disturb the migration of several species of birds
that pass over the area every year. Some were heading north
just as NATO's bombardment began.
``They have always used these corridors. I wonder whether
they will ever do so again. I think fauna right across Europe
and beyond will feel the affects of this war for a long time to
The grimmest spinoff of the war, now in its third month, is the
sight of armed guards patrolling the zoo.
``They're not there to keep people from harming or stealing the
animals,'' Bojovic said. ``Their job is to shoot the animals if the
zoo gets bombed and some of them try and break out.''