Soon after the publication of an article on The Daily Mail about the wild animals in a Gyumri zoo who were left to starve after being abandoned by their oligarch owner, Armenia's Ministry of Nature Protection established a task group to work on the development a legislation concerning wild animals kept in the non-free or semi-free conditions. Armenian animal rights activists believe the state has taken a step forward in relation to ensuring animal welfare; however, they don't think it is not enough to eliminate the root causes of the problem.
Speaking to Epress.am, deputy nature protection minister Khachik Hakobyan said the task group was working on legislative amendments that envisaged a new procedure for issuing licenses for raising and keeping wild animals. To receive this license, he added, natural or legal persons will have to submit proof that they have created and ensured conditions that meet international standards for animal welfare. The new legislation, according to the official, will also see that all wild animals are registered, which, Hakobyan is convinced, will be enough to prevent illegal movement of animals.
“The state cannot be held responsible for the massive and grievous animal exploitation; it cannot just take in and support all the animals which have been left behind after being kept for entertainment at public eating places: we are talking about millions of drams here. The smuggling of animals to Armenia, on the other hand, has to be prevented. Wildlife can't be brought into Armenia solely for people's entertainment,” Hakobyan said, expressing the hope that after the adoption of the law restaurants and other public eating places will stop the controversial practice of keeping wild animals, especially since they are not even capable to provide the necessary conditions for the animals' welfare.
Environmentalist Grigor Janoyan, who is also the head of the Yerevan-based Green Age non-profit, was initially a member of the nature protection ministry's working group but had to subsequently leave due to “fundamental differences.” The license issuance procedure, he said in a conversation with Epress.am, was fraught with corruption risks and has the potential to become another way for tax authorities to extort money from restaurant owners.
“We wanted to develop a solid law; if an oligarch wants to keep, say, a lion, it should cost him 120 000 dollars. I didn't just want to get rid of lions at restaurants; if oligarchs were not allowed to raise and keep wil animals, restaurant owners would not even come up with the idea of getting some for entertainment purposes. To put it bluntly, if an animal exploiters have a cash register receipt, or some other proof that they have purchased the animal, they are allowed to keep it, and it doesn't matter that they don't know how to ensure the animal's safety, what to feed it or where to keep it,” Janoyan stated.
The environmentalist is convinced that the law developers need a different approach: if one wants to privately keep an endangered animal, they have to prove that they are going to somehow be useful in protecting and breeding the animal.
Nare Aramyan, a member of the Pro Paws charitable NGO, for her part, told Epress.am that the current process does indeed bear corruption risks; however, she believes that these risks can be neutralized by a vigilant public supervision. “The nature protection ministry alone cannon solve this problem. The ministry of emergency situations, the police, territorial authorities should also be engaged in the process.”
Nearly 200 entertainment facilities in Armenia, according to Aramyan, have wild animals on public display, while crocodiles and tigers are even kept in private apartments in Yerevan. The Pro Paws representative said the organization periodically receives reports of wild animals in poor conditions in entertainment centers of eating places. The most commonly reported restaurant, she added, is located in the village of Mkhchyan in Armenia's Ararat province and allegedly belongs to a relative of former Prime Minister Hovik Abrahamyan.