How do hippos feel at the Riga Zoo?

Photo: LETA Author: Lauris Nagliņš

Alexander Kuzmin, Riga city council deputy on behalf of the Latvian Russian Union, has made a written request for information to the Riga Zoo. He asked to provide information on the staff personnel with high education diplomas in biology and veterinary as well as whether the zoo meets international requirements for keeping large animals.

The hippos at the Riga Zoo still live in their own swamp, and the quality of this swamp leaves much to be desired.

We recently received the response to our request for information. The issue was studied in more detail by Inna Diery who stated, ”As of June 30, 2021 the Riga Zoo has 165 people on staff, including 90 employees with the Department of Information, Education and Animal Collection. 34 of them have degrees in biology. But there are only 2 veterinarians for the entire zoo”.

According to the modern standarts of keeping animals in zoos, their maintenance should be organized so that, on one hand, it would compensate the animals for what they inevitably lose in captivity, and, on the other hand, it would provide people with a chance to observe animals and get an impression of their behaviour in a natural habitat. That is what we come to zoos for. Animals should be provided with both physical and psychological comfort while people should be provided with a chance to understand how important it is to preserve all these species in nature.

The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) developed the European Professional Zookeeper Qualification Framework identifying the key competencies required to be a professional zookeeper working in an EU zoo also specifying how large animals should be kept.

The zoo of Riga admits in their official response that the way how brown bears and hippos are kept in the zoo does not meet these criteria.

For example, three brown adult bears (Ursus arctos) are kept in the Ciruli branch of the Riga Zoo which was built in 1996.

The open space area for these three animals is 250 m² which is 3.5 times less the minumum norm as the recommendations for keeping such animals specify. The area of the close enclosure is is 18.3 m² which is 2 times less than the required minimum. The height of the fence by the perimeter of the enclosure should be 4 meters instead of the current 3 meters.

The encloure for the hippos (Hippopotamus amphibius) was created in the 1970s and it has not been developed since then. There have been just a few improvements made in the last twenty years. The internal glazing was installed to ensure visitors’ safety. The pool located in the inside part of the inclosure can be filled with warm water. The roofing of the enclosure has been partially replaced. There are two female hippos in the collection of the zoo in Riga. They are 31 and 33 years old. It is worth nothing that life expectancy for many hippos in captivity is over 50 years. Hippos are also one of the most dangerous animals. The body length of a female hippopotamus is 280-350 cm and its weight is 1.5-2.5 tons.

While the closed enclosure for our hippos is only 33 m² less than the required minimum, the open air enclosure should be 1860 m² instead of the current 165 m². All horizontal surfaces in the open enclosure are made of concrete while hippos absolutely need surfaces covered with some natural soft substance. They should be provided with the opportunity to graze. The depth of the pool should be at least 1.5 m instead of the current 1.2. Not only hippos would get sad enduring such life…

Many other animals in the zoo have acquired more spacious enclosures thanks to European funds or sponsors. There are no plans to improve life of brown bears and hippos in the zoo yet.

Hippos and brown bears might not be regarded as the cutest animals. However, they also worthy of better living conditions. We intend to make sure they will get them.

Would you agree to assist building a more spacious enclosure for our hippos?