We’re guessing that when you hear the phrase “crocodiles in Ukraine” the first thing that comes to mind is the terrifying drug sweeping Russia and Ukraine known as the “crocodile drug.” That is scary enough, but imagine yourself in southern Ukraine, along the Black Sea and you run into a region seemingly fascinated with crocodiles.
From Odessa to Sevastopol to Yalta, it doesn’t take long on a beach boardwalk to encounter a statue to the deadliest reptile on earth, the mighty crocodile. Most of the older statues are more elegant and from the Soviet period, but today a more casual or shall we say “folksy” legacy has come to represent the Crocodile.
Most of our readers will wonder what caused all this interest in crocodiles along the beach cities of southern Ukraine? The crocodile is native to Africa and Australia while it’s cousin the Alligator is native to the American continent and China, certainly not native to the Black Sea.
While we generally see large reptiles like the crocodile in a Zoo setting, in the years immediately after the breakup of the Soviet Union it was common for exotic animals to mysteriously find their way into the collections of wealthy individuals as city and regional zoos were plundered or sold off in many cases.
In 2008 in the sea port city of Mariupol an ocean exhibit went awry when a crocodile escaped his handlers and headed out to sea. It took 3 months to capture the elusive crocodile, during which time local authorities posted signs but allowed beaches to remain open. The crocodile, named Godzik, apparently died from injuries sustained while being captured and today a small bronze statue of the crocodile stands in front of a local cafe bearing the inscription: “To Godzik of Mariupol.”
Then in 2009 local fishermen in Odessa discovered two crocodile in a pond near Odessa’s Lukoil oil refinery plant. Odessa Emergency Situation Department divers confirmed that two crocodiles, one at 3 metres and the other about half that size, had been released in the pond. Although crocs are not native to this part of the world, they can adapt and live in just about any kind of water.
In January of 2011 a tourist at the Zoo in Dnipropetrovsk dropped her cell phone into a tank while attempting to take a photo of a crocodile. The Croc, named Gena, ate the phone. Zoo officials didn’t believe the young tourist at first until the phone started ringing in the reptiles stomach. Zoo officials injected Gena with laxatives but that didn’t work.
Meanwhile the tourist, a young lady in her 20’s by the name of Rimma Golovko, was demanding the return of Sim card as it contained her photographs and contacts. To make matters worse, when it became clear that surgery would be necessary to save both the crocodile and the phone, zoo veterinarians admitted that they didn’t know how to treat such non-native animals at their zoo.
In December 2010 a crocodile aquarium opened in Yalta, Ukraine. Usually we associate Yalta with those stunning mountains which plunge into the Black Sea, the out-of -place yet beautiful Swallow’s Nest, and of course who could forget the Yalta Conference between the “Big Three” powers; the Soviet Union, the United States and the United Kingdom was held at Yalta’s Livadia Palace, the former Romanov vacation home, where leaders met to divide up Eastern Europe between the victors of World War II.
This time however Yalta gained a крокодиляриум (Crockodilyarium). Possible translation: another zoo where vets may or may not know how to treat such large animals. The facility was built to fit numerous sea creatures from sea turtles to crocodiles and 77 baby Nile crocodiles, almost one for every thousand citizens according to the 2012 Ukrainian census, were imported and are housed inside the facility.
If it makes you feel any safer, the “Krokodilyarium” is near Yalta’s waterfront boardwalk and close, and by that we mean really close, to Yalta’s McDonald’s–just 50 metres away.
Oh, and if the management at McDonald’s thought they had a lock on birthday parties for children, the new Crocodile aquarium has gone after the kid birthday party market with offers of all sorts of cool prizes, including new Olympus cameras!
Not to be outdone by Yalta, Sevastopol officials announced in May 2012 that a crocodile farm was ready to open. The Sevastopol crocodile farm is commercial of course, open to the public. Just what Ukraine needs, or maybe not.