BBC News

Kazakhstan zoo monkeys given wine 'to ward off flu'

By Patrick Jackson
BBC News

image captionThe zoo says pregnant mothers or baby monkeys are not fed the wine

A zoo in central Kazakhstan, where overnight temperatures have dipped to nearly -40C, is giving monkeys a wine concoction as a remedy against flu.

Karaganda Zoo chief animal specialist Svetlana Pilyuk told local media it was not a matter of making the animals drunk but of "relaxing" them.

The red wine is diluted with hot water and mixed with sugar and fruit.

Ms Pilyuk said it was "normal practice" in zoos but London Zoo told the BBC this was "absolutely not" the case.

Karaganda is one of the oldest zoos in Kazakhstan, an ex-Soviet republic with extreme winters.

Despite the current freezing weather, the temperature in the monkey enclosure is kept at 27C, Ms Pilyuk said.

'Just like people'

image captionFruit, sugar and water are added to the red wine

In video released by local newspaper Novy Vestnik, a member of staff at Karaganda Zoo was shown mixing the drink in a kettle.

It consisted of wine, lemon, apple, sugar and "a little" hot water.

Monkeys were then filmed drinking the "grog" from the spout of the kettle, as a keeper coaxed them, saying "Drink, drink, drink".

The keeper told the paper that the norm per animal was between 50 and 100 grams.

Pregnant monkeys and babies are not allowed to have the drink, Ms Pilyuk told AFP news agency.

"We give the monkeys wine because in the winter it protects them from respiratory infections," she said.

"After all, primates are just like people - they enjoy drinking an alcoholic drink.

"Some of them even abuse it, coming up to the drinking trough several times."

'Completely wrong'

Speaking to Novy Vestnik, the chief animal specialist said: "We by no means make them drunk.

"It's normal practice. Zoos do this all over the world."

In nature, she pointed out, primates eat plants containing alcohol, "which relaxes their nervous system".

Emma Edwards, a spokesperson for the Zoological Society of London, told the BBC News website the zoo was not familiar with the facility at Karaganda.

"It's absolutely not the norm to give any animals alcohol, diluted or otherwise," she said.

"Alcohol lowers the blood temperature so it would be completely the wrong thing to do."

It is not unknown for wild monkeys to take alcohol.

Researchers in the Caribbean, for instance, have studied the drinking habits of vervet monkeys, which raid the tables of unsuspecting tourists for drink.

Karaganda's zoo, which dates back to the 1930s, reportedly boasts 160 species of animals, including several that are endangered.

It has long suffered funding problems.

In recent years, its efforts to raise money have included an animal "beauty contest", following the example of cash-strapped zoos in neighbouring Russia.

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