So why doesn’t the Belgrade Zoo cage the war criminals & leave the elephant in India?
Milka Knezevic-Ivaskovic (IPPL)
BELGRADE, Serbia––Belgrade Zoo director Vukosav Bojovic sought publicity in mid-January 2006 for his intended acquisition of an elephant named Djanom from an unnamed zoo in Punjab, India.
The Belgrade Zoo got publicity on January 11, 2006 as scene of Associated Press file photos showing former Croatian Serb paramilitary commander Dragan Vasiljkovic kissing a brown bear named Kninja and her two cubs. Vasiljkovic visited the zoo on Sept-ember 19, 2005 to visit Kninja, formerly mascot of his militia unit.
Croatia on January 11 issued an international warrant seeking Vasiljkovic’s arrest for alleged 1991 war crimes including torturing, killing, and expelling Croatian civilians as well as soldiers from their homes, plus arranging the assassination of Egon Scotland, 43, who documented some of Vasiljkovic’s actions for the Munich daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
Believed to be living in Perth, Australia, Vasiljkovic, 51, “had petty convictions against him and was involved in Melbourne’s brothel industry in the 1970s,” reported Natasha Robinson of The Australian.
The Belgrade Zoo link to a fugitive war criminal upstaged Belgrade animal advocate Jelena Zaric’s discovery that the elephant in question either does not exist or is coming through some connection circumventing the Central Zoo Authority and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species management authority in India.
According to Bojovic and the other principals in the Belgrade Zoo version of the elephant story, Serbian karate champion Tanja Petrovic is to receive Djanom, a young bull, as a gift from Maharaja Raja Randhir Singh, head of the Indian Olympic Association.
Djanom would become companion to Twiggy, a female elephant sent to Serbia from the Netherlands on a “breeding loan” nearly 15 years ago, after killing her keeper. The Netherlands tried to recall Twiggy in 1994 in protest against the Serbian invasions of Bosnia and Croatia, but could not find a way to retrieve her short of sending troops. By the time the United Nations sent Dutch peacekeepers, the issue was history.
Petrovic claimed to have personally talked to the zoo director in Punjab who is to send Djanom, adding that he agreed to send some languor monkeys as well.
Retired Serbian professional basketball star Vlade Divac, reportedly now living in Sacramento, California, was to pay for the transportation.
Introduced by ANIMAL PEOPLE, Zaric contacted relevant sources in India.
Former Indian minister of state for animal welfare Maneka Gandhi reminded Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh that in 2004, as chair of the National Wildlife Board, he wrote that “No elephants should be sent outside India, as they often die and are always badly looked after.”
The Central Zoo Authority of India had only three days earlier cancelled a proposed transfer of an elephant to the Avalon Zoo in the Philippines, cancelled a proposed transfer of an elephant to Armenia in April 2005, and is expected to cancel a proposed transfer of an elephant to a zoo in Korea.
But no one knew anything about the alleged Belgrade transaction.
“The Central Zoo Authority is in no knowledge of gifting of any elephant from Punjab to Belgrade,” CZA secretary B.R. Sharma wrote to Diana Ratnagar of Beauty Without Cruelty–India, who was apparently first to reach him. “The Government of India has already banned gifting wild animals by heads of state,” Sharma reminded Ratnagar. “International movement of wild animals cannot be done without permission from both CITES and the CZA, if it is related to any zoological park.”
“I hope nothing is in the pipeline,” Sharma added in a similar message to CZA board member Nanditha Krishna.
Wondered Compassion Unlimited Plus Action cofounder Suparna Ganguly “Could the Belgrade Zoo and the Punjab government have reached an informal agreement, which has not yet reached the CZA?”
Sandeep Jain of People for Animals–Ludyana explored that possibility.
“I have talked to the zoo directors at the Chattbir Zoo,” Jain reported. “They have told me that there is no such plan.”
No other Punjab zoo was known to have elephants.
“Rajah Randhir Singh is also brother of the chief minister of Punjab,” Jain mentioned, but even so, the only way Jain saw for the Belgrade Zoo to get an Indian elephant would be through an illegal private transaction.
Concerned about conditions at the Belgrade Zoo for some time, Zaric sought help in an open letter to ANIMAL PEOPLE published in March 2005. “Built in 1936, on six hectares of rocky fortress, this privately operated zoo has approximately 2,000 animals of about 200 species,” Zaric explained. “Many big animals are in very small cages. Many animals look distressed.”
Yet Bojovik, despite a questionable record in many respects, is credited with improving the Belgrade Zoo during his 20 years in charge.
“In 1986 the zoo was a ruin,” wrote New York Times correspondent Roger Cohen in June 1994. “Years of Com-munist management left it with more staff than animals.”
Bojovik fired the staff he inherited, and rebuilt the collection despite the United Nations embargo that was in effect against Serbia from 1992 to 1996. Among the animals Bojovik acquired during the embargo were the bear Kninja; a tiger cub who was mascot of Arkan’s Tigers, a paramilitary unit notorious for “ethic cleansing” in Bosnia; and a wolf hybrid, exhibited as a “Serbian Defense Dog.”
Two camels came as gifts from Libyan dictator Colonel Moammar Khadafy.
Other animals apparently arrived through brokerage arrangements.
Even before the U.N. embargo, Bojovik was widely seen as suspect, due to his role as an intended middle man in the “Bang-kok Six” case, exposed by the International Primate Protection League. The case broke when six baby orangutans were seized from smugglers in March 1990 at the Bangkok airport. Packed in a crate marked “Birds,” the orangutans were en route from Indonesia to Moscow by way of Serbia, in a deal arranged by Worldwide Primates owner Matthew Block.
Then based in Miami, Florida, Block eventually drew 13 months in prison for related offenses. Block later moved to Israel.
Bojovik was indicted in the U.S., but did not visit the U.S. to be arrested or tried. His involvement came to light through then-Belgrade Zoo volunteer Milka Knezevic-Ivaskovic, who was surrogate mother to a baby orangutan.
“She hadn’t proper shipping documents, and I started to realize that her arrival was for some reason being kept a secret,” Knezevic-Ivaskovic recalled in 2003. “I learned about IPPL and contacted [founder] Shirley McGreal. Then I started to write articles for various newspapers, to inform people about the terrible ways of killing orangutan mothers to get babies, how babies were smuggled, and about Bojovic’s role in the Bangkok Six affair. Unfortunately, at that time, there was no freedom of the press in my country and I was accused by Bojovic of libel and slander. I was tried and found guilty, despite many witnesses testifying on my behalf.”
McGreal helped Knezevic-Ivaskovic through five years of appeals. Eventually Knezevic-Ivaskovic was cleared of the allegations against her. She is now a volunteer IPPL representative. ––Merritt Clifton
New Legislation: Austria, New Jersey, Ohio
Austria no longer allows biomedical research on chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos, orangutans, and gibbons, effective on January 1, 2006, unless the studies are in the animals’ own interest. The last apes actually used in experiments in Austria were retired by Baxter Laboratories in 2002.
Less popular with animal advocates is a new Viennese ordinance requiring that dogs born after January 1, 2006 must be insured to a minimum liability of $864,000.
New Jersey Acting Governor Richard J. Codey in early January endorsed into law a bill that allows public school students to “choose an alternative to dissecting, vivisecting, incubating, capturing or otherwise harming or destroying animals as part of their course of instruction.” The bill cleared the state assembly 74-3 and cleared the state senate 36-0. A parallel bill cleared the Massachusetts legislature with unanimous house support and 35-3 support in the senate in 2004, but was vetoed by Governor Mitt Romney, lest it inhibit the receipt of funding for biomedical research. Twelve states now have similar laws, including California since 1988 and New York since 1993. Massachusetts ranks second in the U.S. in National Institutes of Health research grant money received, but California is first, New York third.
Ohio Governor Robert Taft on January 4, 2006 signed into law a bill that bars the state Dept. of Natural Resources from using hunting and fishing license fees to fund non-wildlife programs.