The park, famous for offering its visitors a petting zoo-like experience with apex predators, has long been a subject of controversy. Taigan has a large online following with plenty of supporters amid big cat fans, while at the same time animal lovers have been rooting for its shutdown over the alleged mishandling of the beasts. The park’s director Oleg Zubkov has faced a string of inspections and court hearings, and the latest could see Taigan being forced to shell out a hefty fine – or into a permanent shutdown.

“Taigan director [Zubkov] has been systematically giving expired feed to animals in violation of federal law,” says Crimea’s top veterinarian, Valery Ivanov. Now Zubkov, who had previously been fined for similar violations, has a month to set things straight.

The park owner blasted the ruling as biased and “far-fetched,” saying that carrion is exactly what most predators eat in their natural habitat. “If the meat that can’t be sold to humans anymore is being supplied to a zoo – it’s OK and the right thing to do. That’s how it should be. Predators don’t eat fresh meat only because they are predators,” Zubkov said.

Another hearing awaits Taigan later in December and it may well see the park closed for 90 more days. The authorities say the animals, which move about near visitors, are lacking the required microchips, veterinary passports and rabies vaccination. The park is denying all the accusations.

As the park business fully depends on ticket sales, Zubkov had earlier warned that even a temporary closure of his park would lead to catastrophic results.

In a video to his social media followers, he said that he would have no choice but to put down some 30 bears being kept in the park’s “collection.” The animals, which he had planned to settle in a separate bear-themed park in Sevastopol, would be left without food, he insists.

Zubkov says that he’s giving the bears away for free to those capable of providing proper conditions, but nobody has accepted the offer so far.

In turn, the Crimean authorities warned that law enforcers will act accordingly if the man starts killing the bears.

Taigan spends around 165 million roubles (around $2.6 million) annually to feed its huge collection of creatures. It has more than 60 lions and over 50 tigers as well as hundreds of other animals, including bears, leopards, giraffes and camels. Occupying 32 hectares on the shores of the Taigan water reservoir in the center of Crimean Peninsula, it’s the largest safari park in Europe.

The lions have always been the main attraction at Taigan, occupying most of its territory, with other animals receiving more modest accommodation. Zubkov himself has been branded ‘The Lion Man’ for his unique relationship with the predators, whom he is able to keep at bay by simply threatening them with his slipper. The safari experience has not been entirely without incident, with one case of a woman bitten by a lion in 2018 leading to particularly negative media coverage. Eventually, a court banned the park’s “Walking with the Lions” attraction this year as it was deemed too dangerous.

Zubkov insists that the authorities simply want to take away his business, which he’s painstakingly built over the years. The Crimean administration says they “have no aim of shutting the safari-park for good,” but only want Zubkov to start working in accordance with the law. Crimea’s premier, Sergey Aksyonov, has blamed the owner of provocative behavior and of deliberately ignoring the regulations, while also accusing him of dodging taxes.

Aside from owning the safari park, Zubkov has also been running the Skazka Zoo in Yalta for some 20 years.

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