"None of them looked like Raji." Stories of famous tigers of the Moscow Zoo

August 1

On July 29, the International Tiger Day celebration, established in 2010 to draw attention to the problem of the species disappearance. We offer you to take a look into the Moscow Zoo history and get acquainted with the tigers that lived here in the last century and immortalized by the famous animal writer Vera Chaplina.

Vera Chaplina, who devoted a significant part of her life to working with zoo pets, perfectly described the animals habit and character. Chaplina's books and articles were so popular that letters were sent to the zoo every day from all over the country - everyone wanted to know how their pets were doing, what their mood was and if anything interesting had happened to them. There were also tigers among them - Raji, Bayaderka (Bayadere) and Sirotka (Orphan).

Head of the Animals ‘Kindergarten’

At the age of 10, Vera Chaplina (1908-1994) experienced a serious tragedy: after getting lost on the street, she could not explain where she lived, and ended up in an orphanage. The little Muscovite Vera was taken to Tashkent. Taking care of abandoned animals helped her to cope with homesickness - she found puppies and kittens on the street, fed them in the yard, and took them to the bedroom at night. "Sometimes one of the caregivers found my pets, and I got a great hit," she later recalled.

Vera Chaplina's mother managed to find her daughter and take her home only five years later. After returning, Vera fell for visiting the Moscow Zoo. One day, Peter Manteuffel, the Deputy Director of the zoo for the scientific part, who recently opened a circle of young biologists at the zoo (KYuBZ) - children and teenagers who loved animals were accepted there - came up to her. He asked if she wanted to joint them, and the girl happily agreed.

Kyubzovka (the pupils of the circle were called kyubzovtsy and kyubzovky) Chaplina cleaned the enclosures, fed the cubs from the nipple, played with them for a long time. Gradually, she became a full-fledged employee of the zoo. In 1933, Vera created a famous enclosure for young animals here, a nursery for cubs left without mothers. The babies lived according to the schedule: morning feeding, a joint walk, lunch, a quiet hour and a walk again. The baby goats here calmly played with tiger cubs, the wolf cubs - with small monkeys.

Today, the young animals ' enclosure, which has long remained the hallmark of the Moscow Zoo, is no longer there: modern researchers believe that such a friendship of animals at a young age interferes with the correct development of instincts.

One of the most famous pets of this enclosure was the little lioness Kinuli (means ‘abandoned’). It was not just a name - it was the fate of a cub that was abandoned by a lioness mother. Vera Chaplina took her home, brought her up in a communal apartment, and in the afternoon brought her to the zoo to communicate with other animals. The lioness became a global sensation - newspapers and magazines in the USA, Great Britain and France wrote about her and her teacher in the late 1930s.

Vera Chaplin and the lioness Kinuli. 1940 Moscow Zoo

At the same time, Vera Chaplina began to write stories and books about her animal pupils. First, in 1935, a collection of short stories ‘Cubs from the Green Enclosure’ was published, two years later - My Animal Pupils, and in 1939, the book My Animal Friends was published in one of the London publishers.

The Fierce Raji and His Beloved Bayaderka

In the winter of 1925, a Bengal tiger caught in India was brought to the Moscow Zoo. It was the first representative of its subspecies to get here. When the box was opened so that he could enter the new dwelling, the tiger laid snug, and then with one jump jumped out and began to furiously rush at the cage, after which he laid snug in a corner, trying to steal away from people. Vera Chaplina, who was 17 years old at the time, was left to look after him.

"I found his eyes the most interesting," she wrote later in the story ‘Raji’. - They were completely different from the other lions and tigers that lived in the zoo. Those animals had brownish eyes, and the Raji's eyes were light, like amber. The eyes of this tiger involuntarily attracted attention and gave him an expression of some indomitable ferocity."

The animal could not get used to people for a long time and rushed on the cage bars at every movement of the employees. It was almost impossible to cut his claws (a necessary procedure for animals kept in captivity) - so he struggled. Over time, the terrible tiger resigned himself to his fate and no longer paid attention to the presence of people. He also ignored his neighbors in the cages - leopards and a large family of Ussuri tigers.

Moscow Zoo

A year later, the Bengal tigress Bayaderka was brought to the zoo. She was beautiful, slender and playful - the complete opposite of Raji. Their cages were opposite each other, and after a while the tigers began to ‘talk’ affectionately. Then Bayaderka was accommodated into a neighboring cage, and one day they decided to open a door between them. The employees were afraid that the tigers would fight, but the meeting went well: "The tigress was trustingly rolling on her back, and Raji, looking at her intently, backed off, as if afraidding to touch her. When there was nowhere else to back off, Raji suddenly straightened up and snorted affectionately. Bayaderka immediately jumped up hurriedly and began rubbing her head against his gray chest, neck, and sides… Everyone breathed a sigh of relief."

Since then, the tigers have become inseparable, but their love story ended sadly. One day, Bayaderka became very ill, the veterinarians could not help her. Having lost a friend, Raji was sad and constantly approached the door of her former cage. Later, another Bengal tigress was brought and settled next to him, but he did not show attention to her, remaining faithful to his late girlfriend.

"Since then, many tigers have visited the zoo, but none of them looked like Raji. His huge gray head with amber eyes, always watching people, his grin of already erased and yellowed fangs, his strong, flexible body with a large scar on the side are still alive in my memory after so many years," - that was the end of the story dedicated to the Raji.

The Tiger Raji. Drawing by V. Vatagin from My Familiar Stories About Animals book by E. Rumyantseva. 1935


Affectionate and Mischievous Sirotka

In 1938, the Ussuri tiger Prince and the tigress Chizhik gave a birth to triplets. For some reason, the mother did not have any milk, and two babies died immediately. Vera Chaplina took the third tiger cub, a girl, home to feed from a bottle. Every two hours, she gave the baby cream, a third diluted with milk with a small amount of sugar. When the tiny Sirotka (as she was called) got stronger, she was placed with the puppies, which were fed by the plain mutt Vulka. But the dog was afraid of the tiger cub and soon refused to feed it, so again baby had to be fed from a bottle.

At the age of six months, Sirotka began to be released to the young animals’ enclosure. There she made friends with the white bear cub Fomka. The animals spent a lot of time together: the little tigress loved to jump on a friend from an ambush and run away from him, and he loved to fight. Visitors liked to watch their games, and the photo of Sirotka and Fomka decorated the brochure released for the 75th anniversary of the Moscow Zoo.

"Once the clumsy bear cub bored with Sirotka that he climbed into the water from her," Chaplina wrote in the story "Fomka - the White Bear Cub". “Fomka is sitting around, and Sirotka is walking around, she can't get him. For a long time she walked like this, then she couldn't stand it and suddenly jumped! Missed and fell into the water. It was then that Fomka gave her a thrashing. In the water, he turned out to be much more agile than a tiger. < ... > After that, Sirotka was already afraid to approach the pool when Fomka was sitting there, and even went to another place to drink water."

At the age of almost a year, an overly mischievous tiger cub was urgently removed from the youngsters ' enclosure because when playing, Sirotka almost crippled her friend, a small lamb. As noted in The Case with Sirotka article in the Evening Moscow newspaper on September 14, 1939, the separation from friends so saddened the minx that she refused food for two days.

With the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, Sirotka moved together with other especially valuable animals to the Sverdlovsk Zoo. In 1944, Vera Chaplina took part in the bringing the animals back to Moscow. This is how she described meeting a tigress in the story ‘The Striped Sirotka’:

"- Sirotka! Sirotka! I called out to her.

Then the tigress jumped up, rushed to the bars, meows, puts her head up, and asks me to caress her. Just think, she recognized! Sirotka, Sirotka! I stroke her, caress her, and she tries to lick me with her rough tongue through the bars. The zookeeper is surprised, the audience is surprised how a tiger could remember a person after so many years."

In 1947, Sirotka starred in the documentary film ‘In the Moscow Zoo’. Later, the tame tigress took part in the filming of the movie ‘Among the Animals’, which took place in the pavilion of the Gorky Film Studio.  During the filming, a rabbit was put into her cage to capture the manifestation of tiger predatory instincts on film. But Sirotka only gently licked the animal - after all, even on the young animals ' enclosure, she was used to coexisting amicably with herbivores. The director and the cameraman waited unsuccessfully for several days for the reaction of the tigress, and then abandoned their idea.

Source: mos.ru

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