Why is Hitler’s alligator living in Moscow?

Main entrance in Moscow Zoo.

Main entrance in Moscow Zoo.

Moskva Agency
The Moscow Zoo has gone through hard times, but the efforts of the government and private sponsors helped save one of the oldest symbols of Russia’s capital. According to local lore, one of the alligators living there was a favorite of Adolf Hitler.

Founded in 1864, the Moscow Zoo is one of the oldest in Europe. At first, it was known as a zoological garden.

Today, the Moscow Zoo is located in the very heart of the capital, but in the 19th century this area was on the city’s outskirts. It was a picturesque place with mansions and green spaces, and was a favorite place for promenades.

The collection of the zoological garden was often enriched with gifts from powerful people. Russian Emperor Alexander II presented an Indian elephant, and Grand Duke Konstantin Nikolaevich Romanov – a rhino. A zebra was presented by Isma’il Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt and Sudan.

During the Civil War about 90 percent of the animals died, but then a revival began. In the Soviet period the zoological garden entered a new chapter: the territory was expanded, animal pavilions were built, and new animals were acquired.

In 1935, one lioness rejected her cub, and so, zoo worker Vera Chaplina took it home to her communal flat. Her collie fed the cub and became so attached to it that they returned to the zoo together. 

In 1927, the zoological garden was given the name of “zoo,” and became a scientific center. Biologists organized conferences, training workshops and seminars, as well as worked at the new laboratories and veterinary centers.

Even during the Great Patriotic War, the zoo continued working, with over 6 million people visiting it from 1941-1945. Most animals remained at the zoo, fed by workers who starved themselves.

In the 1970-1980s, the zoo went through hard times. Due to a lack of state support, it began to deteriorate and decay. The buildings were in such bad condition that the heads of Amur tigers were often hit by frogs falling from the terrarium above.

Reconstruction began in 1990s, under the personal supervision of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. In fact, at the beginning of the 2000s, the Russian capital got a completely new zoo, redesigned and modified. Today, about 8,000 animals covering over 1,000 species live here: from huge elephants to the tiny Piebald shrew that is just seven centimeters long.

Saturn alligator.

One of the most remarkable inhabitants is the 81-year old alligator, Saturn. According to legend, Hitler liked to watch this animal during visits to the Berlin Zoo, where Saturn lived. In 1946, the animal was transported to the Moscow Zoo.   

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