May 27, 2020

The Amazing Life of Moscow's Gator


The Amazing Life of Moscow's Gator

It's not entirely certain how old the Moscow Zoo's alligator Saturn was when he died this weekend, but he was clearly a survivor. Initially born wild in the Mississippi, Saturn was sent to the Berlin Zoo in 1936. Reports differ on whether he was just a baby or already an adult when he was transported to Germany, but Saturn's youngest age at time of death was 84.

The reptile from the American South was in the zoo during World War II and, through some miracle, survived the destruction. According to the Moscow Zoo, Saturn survived the Allied bombing campaign in November 1943, when the Berlin Zoo was destroyed and 20 to 30 alligators were killed. Saturn however not only survived, his whereabouts for the next three years are a mystery. 

Saturn in the Moscow Zoo
Saturn in the Moscow Zoo

"One version of events is that Saturn survived three winters on the streets of the Third Reich's capital," the Moscow Zoo said. Though alligators can go into hibernation in cold weather, the idea that Saturn floated in the Spree River as the Soviet army took the city seems farfetched. 

A retired archivist of the Berlin zoo said it was possible that Saturn was kept in an apartment for part of this missing time: it was not unheard of to keep exotic animals back then, and at his age at the time, he would have been much smaller than the three-and-a-half meters he reached toward the end of his life.

 

"Recollections of Saturn"

Whatever transpired, it was British soldiers who captured the alligator somewhere in the British Zone of occupation after the end of the war, and in 1946 they handed him over to the Soviets. Initially, when he began his long life in Moscow, he was nicknamed "Hitler." It was only later that the Moscow Zoo named him Saturn. Unfortunately, documentation about Saturn's precise history was lost in a fire in the 1950s.

The Moscow Zoo eventually received a female alligator as a potential mate for Saturn. Shipka was younger, but unfortunately died when laying her eggs, and Saturn was so desolate he refused food for a time. In 1993 during the putsch, when tanks passed close by the Zoo on the Garden Ring, Saturn was reportedly so distressed he cried out. His keepers assumed he thought his home was getting bombed again.

Saturn was said to enjoy being massaged by his keepers with a brush, and apparently had a fairly  peaceful demeanor, even though sometimes he gnawed on concrete structures when provoked by males in his vicinity. He suffered from rumors of being Hitler's personal pet, with some visitors hurling objects at him. The zoo eventually had to erect a thick wall around his enclosure to protect him. 

The majestic creature from segregated American South witnessed many of the most momentous events in the twentieth century history: from the rise and fall of Hitler to the end of the Soviet Union. The stories he could tell!

The zoo said Saturn will be commemorated in Moscow's Darwin Museum of Natural History.

You Might Also Like

Moscow's Zoo
  • September 01, 2014

Moscow's Zoo

One hundred and fifty years ago, Moscow‘s zoo opened just outside the city‘s Garden Ring. Ever since, the 53-acre institution has been deeply embedded in the city‘s life.
A True Crocodile
  • May 24, 2020

A True Crocodile

This wonderful short animated film about a crocodile is our video of the week.
Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

Russia Rules

Russia Rules

From the shores of the White Sea to Moscow and the Northern Caucasus, Russian Rules is a high-speed thriller based on actual events, terrifying possibilities, and some really stupid decisions.
Fearful Majesty

Fearful Majesty

This acclaimed biography of one of Russia’s most important and tyrannical rulers is not only a rich, readable biography, it is also surprisingly timely, revealing how many of the issues Russia faces today have their roots in Ivan’s reign.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
Steppe / Степь

Steppe / Степь

This is the work that made Chekhov, launching his career as a writer and playwright of national and international renown. Retranslated and updated, this new bilingual edition is a super way to improve your Russian.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod: A Novel in Many Voices

Stargorod is a mid-sized provincial city that exists only in Russian metaphorical space. It has its roots in Gogol, and Ilf and Petrov, and is a place far from Moscow, but close to Russian hearts. It is a place of mystery and normality, of provincial innocence and Black Earth wisdom. Strange, inexplicable things happen in Stargorod. So do good things. And bad things. A lot like life everywhere, one might say. Only with a heavy dose of vodka, longing and mystery.
Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

Maria's War: A Soldier's Autobiography

This astonishingly gripping autobiography by the founder of the Russian Women’s Death Battallion in World War I is an eye-opening documentary of life before, during and after the Bolshevik Revolution.
Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar

Bears in the Caviar is a hilarious and insightful memoir by a diplomat who was “present at the creation” of US-Soviet relations. Charles Thayer headed off to Russia in 1933, calculating that if he could just learn Russian and be on the spot when the US and USSR established relations, he could make himself indispensable and start a career in the foreign service. Remarkably, he pulled it of.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955