How a Sedative Helped an Elephant in Kyiv

Hearing that an elephant in the Kyiv Zoo needed sedatives, I took a closer look at how the public cares for animals during wartime. And yes, focusing on everyday life, the stories were economic.

Wartime Zoos


Horace is a 17-year-old Asian elephant. Pictured above with the Kyiv zoo director, Horace feels the stress of wartime. Because he awakens during the night, a caretaker sleeps with him, offering sliced apples, administering sedatives, and “chatting” to calm him when he gets up.

Many of the other animals also feel the stress. Several zebras ran into a fence when the air raid sirens panicked them.Totally atypical, a mom lemur abandoned her baby. As for Tony, the 47-year-old gorilla, he seemed to care most about seeing people deliver his treats. Meanwhile, the least worried animals are the alligators and crocodiles.

At the Kyiv Zoo website, you can see the abandoned baby lemur they are caring for:

Fifty workers and their families moved in to the zoo. Unable to squeeze in the biggest animals, when bombing and shells threaten, the employees shelter in a bird enclosure and an unfinished aquarium. Including tigers and lions, some of the wild animals were shipped to Poland.


On September 3, 1939 as WW II began, the British government asked the London Zoo to close. At that time, they were able to relocate an ostrich, four chimpanzees, three elephants, two orangutans. Worried venomous animals could escape, the zoo killed most. But they did keep two pythons, each close to 25 feet long. Similar to Kyiv, some animals suffered from stress and some died. But the camels seemed to be more complacent. After their Camel House was hit by a bomb, they were found calmly chewing their cud.

The public, asked to donate, gave a ton of acorns a week to the zoo. Their money problems were partially solved through an “Adopt an Animal” appeal. They also reopened to generate revenue.

Our Bottom Line: Zoo Economics

Zoos during wartime take us to land, labor, and capital. Because they are scarce factor resources, most of all, as suggested by economics student Miranda, it is about the margin. They have to decide how much extra to allocate and where. With men leaving to fight, the zoo needed the extra human capital. One Kyiv zookeeper explained his tradeoff. He said he stayed because there was no one else to save the animals’ lives. It was how he could best support the war effort. And of course, we are talking about the capital that shelters the people and animals, the inventory of food and medicine and even growing greens on zoo property.

Using our economic lens, we see wartime zoos allocating scarce resources. Based on cost and benefit, they are making all of their decisions at the margin.

My sources and more: This American Life, The Washington Post, and The Conversation had the Ukraine story. Expanding beyond, this 1941 article and this one, told about London during WW II. Finally, the Kyiv Zoo website is ideal for an update.

Originally published at on April 5, 2022.




Located at the intersection of current events, history, and economics, econlife® slices away all of the layers that make economics boring and complex.

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Econlife Team

Econlife Team

Located at the intersection of current events, history, and economics, econlife® slices away all of the layers that make economics boring and complex.

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