Nothing Says Love Like a Walrus

When Moscow lawyer Ilya Krasavin went to the Moscow Zoo on his birthday last year, he was surprised to see his name emblazoned on the raccoon's enclosure.

It wasn't a practical joke -- instead, the plaque was recognition of a sponsorship deal his wife had arranged as a birthday present.

"I'd never had such a wonderful present before," said Krasavin, 28. "I think it was a great idea. I pay 3,000 rubles a month and I don't regret it."

For the Moscow Zoo, maintaining its vast menagerie is, not surprisingly, an expensive task. To help cover the costs, 11 years ago it started the "Take Care of an Animal" program, under which individuals and organizations are invited to sponsor a creature of their choice. The donated funds cover maintenance and food costs. In return, sponsors receive a free unlimited entry pass and invitations for two to three family members -- for corporate sponsors, free entry for large groups by advance arrangement -- as well as the option of a name plaque on the animal's enclosure.

At present, there are about 40 sponsors, zoo spokeswoman Raisa Koraleva said. Most are organizations, but the number of individuals wishing to participate grows each year. Still, sponsors' donations only add up to about 1 percent of the zoo's total funding, with visitors' entry fees and the Moscow city government covering the remainder roughly equally.

Most sponsors choose medium-size animals -- kangaroos, raccoons, wolves and foxes, which cost about 100 rubles a day. Large animals are also popular, especially giraffes (700 rubles a day), tigers (1,350 rubles a day), elephants (1,650 rubles a day) and -- the most expensive of all -- walruses (3,570 rubles a day). Many organizations choose animals associated with their logo. For instance, Lacoste sponsored an alligator, and in a similar program at Krasnoyarsk Zoo, a funeral agency is reported to have sponsored a black raven.

After choosing an animal, the next step is to sign a treaty of charitable donation with the head of the zoo. The minimum term is one month. Payments can be made in a lump sum for a whole year, every three to six months or every month.

Sponsors are entitled to inquire about expenses and attend an annual guardianship program meeting at which zoo personnel report on the use of the funds, what has been done and what has been changed.

The Donskoi family has been sponsoring a fox at the Moscow Zoo for six months. Muscovite Irina Donskaya, 44, said her 21-year-old son came up with the idea after seeing sponsors' name plaques at the zoo.

Igor Tabakov / MT
Companies often sponsor animals associated with their logo.
"Other people do it, so why can't we help? That's what he told me," she said.

"I thought it was an excellent idea, because people often want to help, but they don't know how. It didn't take long to start, and it wasn't difficult at all. Most of our friends react positively, but there are people who don't understand."

Krasavin said he had also encountered such attitudes.

"Some of my friends think it's a waste of money," he said.

"But most of them agree with me, because for your own well-being you need to do charity.

"I do believe the money I give helps the zoo, even if not all of it goes to raccoons. A part of it may be used for the zoo's development. ... I trust the people who organized this program."

To become a sponsor, contact the Moscow Zoo, 253-6367,

A list of animals that can be sponsored is on the web site

Bison Need Help, Too

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Ilya Krasavin and his wife sponsor a raccoon at Moscow Zoo.
Another way to sponsor an animal is to join the World Wildlife Fund's "Adopt a Bison" project, which supports the Oksky and Prioksko-Terrasny bison breeding centers in the Ryazan and Moscow regions.

Individuals and companies can "adopt" a bison by making a donation of 45,000 rubles to cover its food, veterinary costs, supporting infrastructure and maintenance for a year. Sponsors receive a certificate, a nameplate on the bison enclosure fence and a special visitor pass. Every year, sponsors can visit their animals and get a full report about their maintenance.

Baby bison are the most popular choice, because adopters get to name them and watch them grow.

To take part, contact coordinator Dmitry Daushev, 727-0938/9, or e-mail the bison breeding center, or See also and