The Leningrad Zoo, located in the heart of St. Petersburg, is the oldest zoo in Russia- having just celebrated its 149th birthday on August 16, 2014. The zoo is located in Alexander Park, in the shady and quiet Gorkovskaya district in the center of the city. More than 3,000 animals from 600 species make their home here, including the favorite polar bear family! If you’re lucky, you’ll get a glimpse of the baby bear diving into the water of her habitat or playing with her mom.
The zoo’s long history intertwines with the city, particularly during World War II when there was significant damage to the facilities. According to popular legend, during the blockade of Leningrad, although the people were starving, the beloved African elephant was still fed and kept as a symbol of hope and a reminder of the good times. Everyone mourned the loss when she was tragically killed in a bombing raid. Closed only briefly during the war, the zoo was refurbished in 1944, and in 1952 the name was changed from The Zoological Gardens to the present day Leningrad Zoo. You can visit the in-zoo museum “Zoo During the Siege”, where the living and working conditions of employees are recreated and fragments of bomb shells, pictures from the war years, household items of employees, and animal feed are on display. Today the zoo sees more than 600,000 visitors from all over the world each year.
When you enter the park, you initially see a petting zoo to your left and the giraffes and kangaroos straight ahead. Being a huge giraffe lover myself, I was immediately shocked and delighted by how open the giraffe’s habitat is, with low fences that make you feel as if the animals could at any moment step out and roam the park freely. The petting zoo includes goats, cows, chickens and geese. The polar bears, the symbol of the park, have their glass-enclosed habitat off to the right side. The new polar bear baby has just been named “Zabava” (fun) after a naming contest with suggestions submitted by park visitors. Other big animals include brown bears, wolves, lions, tigers, camels, and moose. There are also great collections of local and exotic birds, reptiles, and super playful monkeys! The “exoterium” is a nice break from the heat or cold, basically a miniature aquarium, this indoor space includes amphibians and sea creatures, as well as bathrooms and a cafeteria. Don’t forget to look for all the small furry animals! From foxes to nutria to lynx, around every corner is an adorable, interesting surprise.
The Leningrad Zoo also boasts several interactive exhibits. Many animal habitats have signs listing times that day when feedings or other activities will occur. The “Trail Ranger” interactive display helps you learn about the wildlife of the Leningrad region, and the “Country Life” exhibition recreates late 19th-early 20th century rural Russian life. You can even take a ride on a horse or donkey! Additionally, the zoo offers season tickets, a variety of special themed activity days and holidays, outreach and educational activities with tame animals, and more.
Although the zoo has some rough patches- it’s quite small, the climate is rather harsh for some species, bees swarm the cotton candy vendors in the summer- it is definitely worth a trip. An afternoon spent at the Leningrad Zoo will be both fun, educational, and full of great photo ops! It’s also an excellent way to learn and practice animal names in Russian!
Leningrad Zoo /
парк Александровский, 1
Phone: +7 (812) 232-8260
+7 (812) 230-1926
Main Zoo Hours: daily 10-21
Exoterium Hours: daily 11-21
Ticket Price: 500 rubles (200 rubles with student ID)
Cashiers close an hour before the park
Samantha Guthrie attends the University of Virginia, class of 2016. She is a double major in Foreign Affairs and Russian and Eastern European Studies. A Boren Scholarship recipient, she plans to work for the US government in a career related to national defense intelligence or international aid. Her research focuses on the relationship between Russians and Caucasians. She spent spring and summer 2014 in St. Petersburg with SRAS Russian Studies Abroad and Russian as a Second Language.