Sunday, March 11, 2012

Vova--Yerevan Zoo Armenia 1960's

In 1960s in Yerevan there was an elephant called Vova. It was sad in the zoo. You know, there are no elephants in Armenia, they are in India mostly. And Vova felt very lonely.

In 1970 Vova decided to escape from the zoo. It went 1 kilometer south-west by Miasnikyan knocking down everything and everyone in the zoo. It was really furious and lonely. And the police, as well as the army began chasing him. There was a tank with them too!

The witnesses say that they were very scared and thrilled. And there was a lot of witnesses because it's not everyday that we see elephants walking in the street. There was a great crowd gathered. When the elephant was approaching, they were climbing a little hill that was very near. People say that it was, however, impossible to climb the hill. But still, they were able because of the great fear. Vova was really huge.

It was a real chase just like in American movies - some kind of Hulk it was. The elephant was furious but people were keeping distance so it didn't injure anyone. However it injured some buildings.

Anyway, Vova was very mad and unpredictable. A decision was to be taken what to do with the animal. In the beginning it was decided to somehow take the animal to the zoo. The police tried everything... Even pushing it with a tank! But nothing helped. They couldn't make the animal go back. There was no soporific bullet, so the decision was severe. They decided to kill Vova. They shot it once, but no effect... The animal was huge and became even more furious. They shot it in its head, but the animal didn't die.

They used the tank to press Vova to the wall... Several hours the animal didn't die...

They hooked the animal to a tank and took it to the zoo. But then, unfortunately, the animal died because of the injury.

Its body was taken to the zoo to feed other animals.

But after the incident newspapers were writing that Vova is in zoo - alive though there were a lot of photographs of the incident. In 2 months, however, everybody in and out of Armenia found out the truth.

I don't want to blame anybody because I would, indeed, kill the animal if I was there... I think that humans' lives are more important... But anyway, personally I want a statue in Yerevan for Vova because the story should live forever as it is the part of Yerevan history!


Leo said...

This story was suppressed at the time, as was the general case with bad news in USSR - plane crashes, etc. But it lived on as a sort of urban legend, and was written extensively about in the independent Armenia - here`s what i was able to gather on this elephant from these accounts:

Vova came to then still-unfinished Yerevan zoo in fall of 1941, as part of a travelling menagerie that was evacuated from Ukraine and "grounded" for the duration of war. His trainer/keeper was one 26-year old Ivan Sczerban, who, upon delivery of the elephant, was drafted into the army and sent to the front lines - only to be discharged and sent back halfway out, as Vova became unmanageable without him. Ivan would stay at the zoo until his death in 1974 (see below). Vova was said to be 14 at the time of arrival, and while i have no contemporary confirmation of this or photos of him, he at least was old enough to be drafted to help with ongoing construction of the zoo, carrying building materials and plowing ground. He was also trained to push stalled trucks and cars up the nearby hill pass. In 1953 zoo purchased female elephant named Tikki, imported from Germany. Two elephants got along well, but no offspring resulted, and Tikki died 15 years later (no age and cause of death given). Reportedly, Yerevan zoo was on a tight budget at the time, and animals were underfed, so Vova was regularly taken out of his enclosure to graze on some undeveloped hills nearby. By one account, enclosure gate was closed with a single horizontal bar. On the early morning of June 28, 1970 Vova broke this gate, and eventually escaped from zoo grounds and attacked some parked cars and a trolleybus at a stop (many writers make point to suggest that he was merely remembering his wartime chores and was innocently trying to push these vehicles uphill). In the process, he broke his left tusk, which, along with stone-hurling from assembling crowd, turned up his rage. City authorities initially were reluctant to kill Vova, hoping to get him back alive, but as news reached Moscow, an order to kill was telephoned from "high up". Vova was initially shot with several rounds from AK-47`s , but this failed to put him down, and shooting was quickly stopped, as elephant was situated besige the rocky face of a hill, and ricocheting bullets could injure the crowd that couldn`t be dispersed. So this "tank" was brought in, which, as other pictures show, had no cannon, so it was either an "ex-tank" converted for some auxiliary technical tasks, or was originally built that way. Some say that idea behind its deployment was to try and push injured Vova all the way back to zoo, but in any way, it eventually resulted in his hindlegs getting badly injured. Vova collapsed, and driver of the "thing" went on to kill him by running it repeatedly over elephant`s body.


Leo said...

In 1972 zoo aquired new, young elephant - also an Asian male and also christened Vova. Ivan went on to work with him, but two years later was killed by his new charge. This Vova the Second is a more obscure story. It is known that he died in late 1991, during political turmoil surrounding collapse of USSR. Some sources say he was shot by outlaws, other describe this as a mercy killing by zoo after he broke his leg/shoulder slipping on some ice in his enclosure (and, indeed, entrance to the elephant house had a rather steep step). A third version is that he simply starved/froze to death in a broke zoo.

In 1999 Yerevan zoo aquired 4-year old Asian male born at Moscow zoo, and originally named Elbrus. He was intended to be renamed - you guessed it - Vova (the Third), but instead was named Grand - in honor of an owner of a company that sponsored his purchase.

Here is more pictures and a story (in Russian) of original Vova`s demise:

And here is 10-minute documentary of (most likely) the second Vova arriving to Yerevan and being led to the zoo by Ivan:,com_afm/pid,113/vfile,1294/lang,ru/

Altough description says this was filmed in 1969 and depicts original Vova, it is obviously wrong, as the animal in the film is much younger and tuskless, and Yerevan zoo recieved no elephants in 1969. Film has 1969 on the standard studio title card, but this could be replacement one taken from another reel, and 1969 copyright at the end appears to be added later. This also couldn`t be delivery of Tikki, as vehicles in background are newer than 1953. So that leaves the second Vova - and altough EEP Asian elephant studbook puts him as 2 years old on arrival, animal in the film is much older - more like 8-10 years? This suggestion is supported by the fact that Vova the Second killed his keeper two years after arrival - action more befitting a teenage bull than a 4-year old.


Wade G. Burck said...

Great, great stuff. Thank you for sharing. Shot and then crushed by a tank. What a way to be dispatched!!!! Sure ace's Edison's electrocution, or a derrick hanging for sure. Sounds kinda like Vova had a bit of "Rasputin" in him, and didn't make it easy for his executioners.


Wade G. Burck said...

Addendum to Leo,
Wonderful footage of the elephant arriving and being unloaded. Hard to find vintage footage like this. No yahooing rodeo, get the hobbles on and head to the destination. Ivan seemed to be fairly skilled in his work. I wonder where/who he got his training from. I note it came out of the train car with only one front foot chain, but had two one when it was outside. The shackle was also run through the chain, instead of pinned to the chain, I assume in case the front feet needed to be hobbled. Easy deal just to run a chain to the shackle instead of using a second shackle. I also note that a back leg chain was removed shortly after the journey started. The elephant was also fairly tractable if it was indeed a young male. The footage is date 1969, yet you state the new male who killed Ivan came in 1972? Again, thank you for the wonderful vintage footage.


Leo said...

It`s my pleasure to be able to make a contribution to this very informative blog. But now i have to correct my earlier assumption about elephant in the video being Vova 2, as i searched further and finally found a picture of him taken in 1974 that shows him having a decent-sized ivory:

I also overlooked the picture of man hand-feeding elephand in the article at the first link - if this photo shows Ivan - who by all accounts appears to be the only keeper to have direct contact with elephants at the zoo - then his advanced age in this photo would account for elephant being Vova 2 - and this elephant looks to be the same, as in 1974 photo, just a little younger.

I also found another article saying that Vova 2 also had a female companion. There is no more information about her, but it is possible that she was purchased earlier than him, as a replacement for Tikki, who would have died in 1968. If this was the case, video likely shows her, and 1969 date makes sense.

And finally, several articles report Vova 2`s freezing death in 1993, not 1991. That winter zoo was without electricity and with poor heating for 6 months, and lost 35% of its collection.


Naneh Petrosyan said...

I was talking to my dad over the phone about elephants and their emotions, and he told me about this elephant. My family is from Armenia, and my father witnessed this happen in the streets of Armenia. He was apart of the crowd running from Vova and unfortunately watching Vova get shot. It is truly a sad story. It is also very interesting as well, and there should be a statue of Vova because he is apart of Yerevans history and should not be forgotten.

Jirair Habeshian said...

This story is very personal and sad for me. I was 4 years young and going home with my mother when on our way home via a taxi, we arrived at the scene. There was a large crowd, a tank, and Vova.

Until today I wonder why the authorities didn't use a tranquilizer to calm Vova and safely return him to the zoo.

Since that day, elephants are my favorite animals, and yes, they should erect a Vova statue at the entrance to the zoo.

Wade G. Burck said...

Greetings Jiran,

Welcome and thank you for your insight. I suspect the reason he was shot, which was the norm at the time, was that tranquilizers and their safe use was still very much in it's infancy. The tranquilizer gun was only developed in the 1950's and not widely available. Few institutions had them. Dr. Antonie Harthoorn the gun in the mid 60's as well as they type's of drug's and their proper dosage used to immobilize wild animals. Additionally, bullet's are just a faster solution to a bad situation.

Wade Burck