Mr. Vladimir Spitsin passed away

23.01.2021

The President of Moscow Zoo, Mr. Vladimir V. Spitsin passed away on January 22, 2021. He had many awards and titles: Honored Worker of Culture of the RSFSR, Academician of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences, President of EARAZA, Chairman of the Council for Coordination of the Activities of Zoos of the Russian Federation, Order of Honor, Order of Friendship and many others.

But mainly he was our support, a role model, the legend. Mr. Spitsin was truly a "zoo person". His father was a general, but at the age of 17 he went to work as a simple loader at the Leningrad Zoo. Then he became an animal care worker in the ornithology department, then became a zoo technician, then the head of the feeding department, the deputy director for the economy. Soon he was transferred to Moscow. In 1974, Mr. Spitsin was appointed deputy director of our zoo for scientific affairs, and three years later he became a director.


The end of the 70s was an extremely difficult period for the Zoo - the “post-war” crisis was not over yet and the “perestroika” crisis was about to begin.

Urgent reconstruction was required - many aviaries were dilapidated and the budget was very short. Everything, except for the major renovation work was done by the hands of the employees - and Mr. Spitsin personally participated in everything. He put on his padded jacket, gloves and went out into the territory, setting an example for the rest of the team.


It can take a long time to list everything that was done on such enthusiasm. Just a few examples: aviaries were made for cheetahs, birds of prey, owls, cranes, Far Eastern storks, wood grouses, flamingos, new islands on ponds were created, and a unique for USSR exposition "Sea Hall" styled as a Captain Nemo submarine was built.


Mr. Spitsin personally ensured the receipt of modern incubators from Italy, where more than eight thousand chicks were raised. A Children's Territory has appeared. A new Terrarium has emerged from the building of the former music school, the collection of which is now one of the best in the world.


Each step was taken with great difficulty and all thanks to the willpower, inspiration and persistence of Mr. Spitsin. When the most severe food shortage of perestroika began, he personally went to the Tishinsky market at the end of the day to pick up the greens and vegetables thrown away by the sellers. There was no choice since the Zoo did not receive vegetables and fruits regularly and there were no berries at all - and many pets have extremely difficult diets. For example, the health of primates and many birds will be severely affected without a varied diet.


However, Mr. Spitsin not only “put out fires” - he constantly pushed the Zoo forward and put it on the world stage. There were times when we had up to 80 delegations in one year. One time he even gave the pelicans to the Queen of England - to strengthen relations between the USSR and Great Britain.


Our President especially remembered the visit of Gerald Durrell. On his visit to Moscow, the naturalist and writer was not ready for the Russian weather and arrived wearing just a light suit. Without a second of hesitation, Mr. Spitsin offered him his work jacket - the same one he was wearing when he was building aviaries - and saved Gerald from getting cold. The visit turned out to be truly informal and kind.


Yes, Mr. Spitsin was persistent, enthusiastic, strong person, but most importantly, he was caring. All who knew him noted this. He regularly wrote letters in support of other zoos. In particular, with his help it was possible to defend the director of Riga Zoo and to save London Zoo from closing.


It is not surprising that it was Mr. Spitsin who became the first Chairman of the Council for the Coordination of the Activities of USSR Zoos. He organized the publication of the first lists of zoo collections, regular information collections about their activities. After that, it became much easier to exchange animals, plan their reproduction, and provide decent conditions for future offspring. Mr. Spitsin was also the executive director of the Zoos Assistance Foundation, which has been highly praised, for example, by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip.

But what is the most important thing for the Zoo? The animals. And the amazing results were achieved during the directorship of Mr. Spitsin. Take, for example, the Pallas' cat - it was in those years that the regular breeding of these rare and extremely demanding animals was achieved, that’s why it later became a symbol of Moscow Zoo. Breeding pairs and groups of many other rare animals were created, such as Przewalski's horses, kiangs, spectacled bears, orangutans, Steller's sea eagles, and red-crowned cranes.


In the 1990s, under the leadership of Mr. Spitsin, the Zoo was reborn almost completely. To update the territory to the modern level within the existing boundaries is an incredibly difficult task. However, for the man who led us through the crises of the 70s and 80s, nothing was impossible.


The zoo has been expanded. They built a pedestrian bridge, a number of new and updated exhibitions, for example, "The Rock of Birds of Prey", "Australia", "South America", "Polar World", Exotarium on the "Island of Animals", "Animals of Russia" and "The Nocturnal World". And this is only a small part of what has been done.


Thanks to Mr. Spitsin personally, we now have a Center for the Reproduction of Rare Animal Species near Volokolamsk. This idea first came to the director's head back in 1978, after a visit to the UK. Mr. Spitsin personally chose the site, pushed this idea through many bureaucratic barriers - and as a result, there are now more than 200 hectares of space for zoological research.


Mainly on the initiative of Mr. Spitsin, the Euro-Asian Regional Association of Zoos and Aquariums - EARAZA was created. It became the "spiritual heir" of the Council for the Coordination of the Activities of Zoos of the USSR and the Zoos Assistance Foundation.

At the beginning of the new millennium, on the initiative and direct participation of Mr. Spitsin, a museum of the Moscow Zoo was created and opened. Several halls of the museum exhibition tell both the history and development of our zoo and the development of zoos in general. According to the testimony of many professionals, our museum is one of the best in the world.


The list of achievements of our Director and President can be expanded for a very long time. Rescued animals, scientific discoveries, international relations - and people, hundreds of people, to each of whom Mr. Spitsin showed personal involvement, attention and care.


He used to say: “The zoo selects the right people by itself. They either leave immediately, or stay till the very end. "
Thank you, Mr. Vladimir V. Spitsin from all of us – the old associates and the new employees. From those who built aviaries with you in the 70s, and those who helped you to master your smartphone. You have always been kind and caring, patient and judicious. You were - and will forever remain - our support, moral role model and simply a good person. We love you very much - and we will always love you.


Dear Friends! If you want to share the memory of Mr. Vladimir V. Spitsin, please send a letter to his work email - v.spitsin@moscowzoo.ru. With your permission, we will publish these memories on the Zoo website.