In the Moscow Zoo, there is a giraffe named Samson who writes a column for Novaya Gazeta. Well, that’s not exactly right, but that is how the rumor goes. The truth, which is slightly more banal, is that he was sponsored by the Russian newspaper for many years until funding inevitably ran out.
Watching him move his long legs languidly on a gloriously sunny day in June, I can see why Samson Leningradovich (named as such since he hails from St. Petersburg) was the obvious choice for adoption. He’s an uncannily friendly, charismatic giraffe who frequently bows through the gap in his pen to let visitors pet his spotted head, daintily baring his teeth to munch on the apples and carrots that people eagerly feed him. His chipper demeanor, however, belies a tragic, doomed love life.
“We kept trying to get a mate for him, but it never worked out,” Petya,* one of the zookeepers who showed me around, said, shaking his head sadly, “One of them broke her legs and had to be put down, and the other died of acute anaphylaxis after vaccination against anthrax.”
At 18, Samson is likely to end his days as a confirmed bachelor (the general lifespan of a giraffe is about 20 years, although they live longer in captivity). But as I watch him brashly chewing an apple while being stroked by a delighted, squealing toddler, I gather he’s adapted to his singlehood rather well.
Samson is just one of the many colorful creatures at the Moscow Zoo, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this September. Their impressive collection, the largest in Russia, consists of approximately 1,200 different animal breeds, scattered around 53 acres of land in the very center of this vast metropolis. The zoo is visited by over 3 million people every year, and employs over 600 workers, including some at their small affiliated zoo in the North (where Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus, allegedly resides), as well as their breeding farm located approximately 100 kilometers outside of Moscow.
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