LEICA Fotographie International / BarTur Photo Award: Photojournalist of the Year
Saving exotic animals from Ukraine
Kyiv, Ukraine; Poznań, Poland
Since the Russian invasion in 2022, a tremendous effort to save wild and exotic animals is carried out in Ukraine. Days after aggression Natalia Popova’s facility filled up with exotic animals — big cats, bears, avians, reptiles — left behind by the owners and found by the army. These were not ZOO specimens, but victims of black market trade, exotic pets left behind in rubble, traumatised and wounded, roaming freely on the frontlines. Born in tiny cages to human amusement, they were endangered animals of questionable origin that cannot be restored to their habitats. A hopeless cause, but on Polish side Ewa Zgrabczyńska, director of ZOO in Poznań, went all-in to answer to Popova’s desperate call for evacuation before the invaders encircle Kyiv. She created a framework that allowed for extraordinary transit the animals to Poznań ZOO for quarantine and care, before redirecting them to asylums around the world. As they saved over 200 animals together, Zgrabczyńska expressed hope that the entire operation may in fact hinder the Ukrainian black market to a point that it’s no more. The insane bravado of these two women and all volunteers going to the frontlines for unwanted, wronged, traumatised animals was the most selfless act I can think of and a larger-than-life story on human condition. Animals are placed in dozen of asylums across Europe, but in some cases they would travel as far as the USA or Africa. Although they cannot be reintroduced to the wild and require complex care due to their traumas and mental health issues. They can occasionally be seen by the public and are messengers, or ambassadors, of how the war affects animals.