Ask the Swan Specialist

Day #1 - Meeting with Moscow Zoo Officials
By:Journal of Shirley Bolin, Member of the Regal Swan®, Traveling in Moscow
Date: 26 July 2007

It is very hot here in Moscow, unlike the weather we had in England which was cold and rainy. This is already turning into quite and exciting trip. My friend, Dr. Nikolai Puchkov and the Moscow Zoo staff have arranged for me to stay in a tower room overlooking the park during my visit. The Zoo itself was founded in 1864 while the city of Moscow is celebrating its 860th birthday.

I feel as though I am in a castle. The second-story room can only be accessed through a long, narrow, spiraling staircase. It is absolutely gorgeous here, and the room is immaculate. I couldn’t have asked for better accommodations. The people are so friendly, even if there is a language barrier.

I have a scheduled meeting this morning with Mr. Vladimir Spitsin, director of the zoo. Everyone seems to be very interested in the pink-swan syndrome. After a quick overview of the park, I head for my meeting. I am greeted by Tanya Arzhanova, head of the Department of International cooperation and assistant to Mr. Spitsin. Tanya tells me that I will also be meeting with the Deputy Director of the zoo, Igor V. Muyzychenko; the zoo’s head veterinarian, the zoo’s curator and a zoologist. It seems this phenomena has not been seen in Moscow, and due to the worries of bird flu in Europe over the past several years, the Moscow group appears to be very eager to learn about the pink syndrome.

We meet for about an hour. No one can believe the photos I have showing the bacteria on the swans. We also talk about the Avian Flu vaccine the zoo is using. I am told that it is an agricultural vaccine that has been used in the past on poultry. Even though Moscow does not have this disease, zoo officials have taken precautionary measures just in case it appears. We also discuss the zoo’s filtration system and enclosures used during the winter months. The only birds that are brought in during the winter are the Australian-Black Swans. All other swans have small buildings or enclosures that they can reach themselves in the event of cold weather. I also mention our interest in the Siberian-Swan Goose that lives at the zoo. Mr. Spitsin makes arrangements for me to see these as well.

Needless to say, this has been a very interesting and productive meeting. As the meeting ends, I am told that I will have a one-on-one meeting with both the Deputy Director and the head veterinarian tomorrow. Tanya explains that I will be taken around Moscow to see the various lakes that have swans including Patriarch’s pond and Gorky Park. The curator has told me that the only swans in public areas are Mute Swans. Only the zoo has Mutes, Australian-Black Swans, South American-Black Necked Swans, Trumpeters, Coscorobas and Whooper Swans. All have been pinioned and if any other swans come into the area it is usually during winter and they are wild swans, not part of the zoo’s collection.

The zoo’s staff has given me unlimited-free access to the park. I am escorted to the zoo’s veterinary clinic where my meeting will take place tomorrow. The clinic or hospital is located only about two blocks from my room, actually it’s located around the bend from the Russian bears. The building is huge. It encompasses about one to two city blocks and has three stories.

After leaving my hosts, I begin to wander the park, which today, is closed to the public. There is an assortment of animals. As this is an old park, many of the exhibits still have large enclosures with major fencing to keep out unwanted guests, especially people. As I approach the swan pond, I notice the Mutes, Whoopers, and Australian-Black Swans. The swans and the pond are framed by an old Soviet-style building that was commissioned by Joseph Stalin.

Near the entrance to the pond, around the corner, a large-bronze sculpture rises high, above the park. And, I do mean LARGE! This sculpture stands at least 20 feet into the air. At the bottom of the sculpture is a large swan, majestically spreading its wings with a royal crown on its head. The base serves as a children’s ride. After all, this is the land of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and Pushkin’s Tsar Sultan.

After another quick tour around the pond, I head for my room. I am hoping to find an internet site to download my diary and photos. Unfortunately, my castle does not have internet access and I am scheduled for dinner later with Nikolai. We are making a quick trip to Novodevichy Convent to check on the swans, which are supposedly in the area. This facility is very famous as many royal women were placed in the convent as nuns, against their will in early Russian history. The cemetery houses several notable Russians, including Khrushchev.

We finish dinner, and head for the Convent. It is now about 10:30 p.m. and the sun is still out. We are experiencing the famous Summer Nights in Moscow. We walk down to the lake but we are disappointed as we don’t see to any swans. We have been told that these are wild swans and they fly in only at certain times. We only see a handful of mallard ducks and a bunch of people walking along the banks of the lake. So it’s off to the store. Nikolai is taking me to do some light shopping.

Shirley with Moscow Zoo Officials - Left to right:
Sergei Popov, Deputy Director of the Moscow Zoo;
Director of Breeding Station, Igor Muzychenko;
Shirley Bolin, Member of the Regal Swan®;
Director of the Moscow Zoo, Vladimir Spitsin;
Curator of the Moscow Zoo, Nikolai Skyratov;
and Head Veterinarian, Moscow Zoo, Michael (Mikail) Alshinetsky

Entrance Moscow Zoo

Moscow Zoo

Moscow Zoo Veterinary Hospital

Moscow Zoo Swan Pond

Shirley's Room

St. Basil's

Kremlin Clock Tower

Swan Sculpture

GUM Department Store