So why doesn’t the Belgrade Zoo cage the war criminals & leave the elephant in India?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2006:
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
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
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
“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
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
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.