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Clothes Make the Man--Part 2

Thumbing through clippings of last year's news I found this one from Reuters. Of the many perspectives reporting on the crisis in Kosovo this blurb stands on it's own and (I think you'll agree) is worthy of posting here as our present Dark Matter.


(Reuters) BELGRADE The noise starts around half an hour before the bombs fall as the animals in Belgrade zoo pick up the sound of approaching planes and missiles, director Vuk Bojovic said. "It's one of the strangest and most disturbing concerts you can hear anywhere,'' he said in an interview.

"It builds up in intensity as the planes approach only they can hear them, we can't and when the bombs start falling it's like a choir of the insane. Peacocks screaming, wolves howling, dogs barking, chimpanzees rattling their cages.''

"I have made a record every hour of each day of when the animals start acting up. One day, when this craziness is over, I'd like to check it with reliable data on when the planes were flying. Someone could make a scientific study out of it.''

Bojovic said the zoo had been hard hit by NATO's air strikes campaign aimed at forcing Belgrade to accept an autonomy deal for Kosovo, particularly when the alliance attacked Belgrade's power system, and indirectly the water supply.

"I had 1,000 eggs of rare and endangered species incubating, some of them ready to hatch in a couple of days. They were all ruined. That's 1,000 lives lost.''

Meat in the zoo's freezer defrosted and went off, making it suitable only to scavengers like hyenas and vultures. Belgrade people donated meat out of their home freezers when the power went down, "but most of it wasn't even fit for animals.''

The lack of water meant that some animals, particularly the hippos, were literally swimming in their excrement, he said.

"We had to give dirty drinking water to a lot of pretty delicate animals. We won't know the effects of that for two or three months,'' Bojovic said. While the zoo overlooks the confluence of two major rivers, the Danube and the Sava, both are heavily polluted by chemical and industrial waste.

The nightly air strikes, with their accompaniment of heavy anti-aircraft fire lighting up the sky, has had other, possibly longer-lasting effects on many of the animals, the director said.

Many of them aborted their young in the latter stages of pregnancy. Many birds abandoned their nests, leaving eggs to grow cold. "If they ever lay again, I just wonder what they will do with them,'' he said. Even a snake aborted some 40 fetuses, apparently reacting to the heavy vibration shaking the ground as missiles hit targets nearby.

The worst night the zoo can remember was when NATO hit an army headquarters only 600 meters (yards) away, with a huge detonation.

"The next day we found that some of the animals had killed their young,'' the director said. "A female tiger killed two of her four three-day-old cubs, and the other two were so badly injured we couldn't save them.''

"She had been a terrific mother until then, raising several litters without any problems. I can't say whether it was the detonation or the awful smell that accompanied the bombing. I personally think it was the detonation,'' he added.

On the same night, an eagle owl killed all of its five young, and ate the smallest of them. "It wasn't because she was hungry. I can only think it was fear.''

The most disturbing case was of the huge Bengal tiger, who began to chew his own paws. "He was practically raised in my office. He trusted humans.''

Looking up into the sky, Bojovic said the constant stream of NATO war-planes, with their trails of polluting gases, threatened to disturb the migration of several species of birds that pass over the area every year. Some were heading north just as NATO's bombardment began.

"They have always used these corridors. I wonder whether they will ever do so again. I think fauna right across Europe and beyond will feel the affects of this war for a long time to come.''

The grimmest spinoff of the war, now in its third month, is the sight of armed guards patrolling the zoo. "They're not there to keep people from harming or stealing the animals,'' Bojovic said. "Their job is to shoot the animals if the zoo gets bombed and some of them try and break out.''

John Q. Citizen

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