Circuses and zoos

Mikhail Mettsel/ТАSS

The new, Ocean-size aquarium at VDNKh, opened in the summer 2015, presents the florae and faunae of all climate zones. Eight thousand species of saltwater and freshwater fishes and water beasts of every size and colour in 80 aquaria. Sharks, killer whales, octopi, piranhas, pinnipeds and crustaceans… you name it! Better be prepared to spend the whole day. In addition to the colossal display of sea life, there is a theatre for shows featuring sea lions, walruses and killer whales, and there is a pool for swimming with the dolphins. A separate room is dedicated to a "petting aquarium," where you can touch a stingray or a starfish. Moskvarium is proud of its mid-Russian freshwater fish collection, most notably, the sturgeon family, which are rarely seen in aquaria.

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The old Moscow Zoo, the fourth biggest zoo in Russia, beloved of many generations of Muscovites and visitors, was founded in 1864 by the Russian Imperial Society for the Acclimatization of Animals and Plants. The mission of that society was not so much to amuse the people of Moscow, but to study animals and plants. It was much harder than it is today to bring exotic faunae and florae to Moscow in the mid-19th century, let alone keep them in Moscow. The Zoo was called "Zoological Gardens" then, with the subtitle: "A Living Outdoor Museum." The Zoo is today a sprawling scientific and educational complex sized 22 hectares, with rare animals, research labs, a children's zoo populated by animal characters from Russian folk tales, and numerous study groups for children. The Zoo is of two parts: the old and the new. This should be kept in mind, otherwise it is easy to lose one's way. In the old part, you will find jaguars, giraffes, zebras, cheetahs, walruses and brown bears. The "Night World" pavilion with half-blind rodents, and the "Bird House" pavilion with rare birds are also in the old part. The new part of the Zoo is home to monkeys, polar bears, crocodiles, pythons, and the Exotarium with rare fishes. The Zoo is pretty crowded most of the time, but less so on weekdays.

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This is one of the oldest circus companies in Moscow, which was run for many years by the great Russian actor and clown, Yuri Nikulin. It is currently run by his son Maxim Nikulin, who treats his father's legacy and the Soviet circus tradition with respect. Not a single show here is "just any show." All acts and actors are meticulously hand-picked, for the most part presenting the evergreen circus classics: trained lapdogs in pink leotards, an elephant with beautiful saddlecloth, rolling on a sphere, everything seems to have come right off the old circus posters. The circus updates its repertoire twice a year, and does a special programme every New Year's Season, featuring Ded Moroz and Snegurochka. There’s a pastry counter in the lobby, selling pastries prepared according to a recipe which has not changed a bit for decades.

Anton Novodehzhkin/ТАSS

This is one of Moscow's oldest theatres for kids, invented and led by renowned animal handler Yuri Kuklachev. Kuklachev's cats fly in spaceships, sing in chorus, wear old-timey starched dresses, play musical instruments, and do a lot of other incredible things. Some shows may involve as many as 40 felines at the same time. Kuklachev has spent years training his cats. His concept is that you do not "train" cats, you play with them, detecting and nurturing individual talents in every animal. The theatre has a custom-built air conditioning system, which makes sure allergy never acts up on those who are allergic to cats. Adults and kids alike find Kuklachev's cat shows perfectly enjoyable.

Nikolay Galkin/ТАSS

This is Moscow's second most important circus and Russia's biggest one, known for its staggering shows. The huge arena is geared to shows of many elements and many actors. Dozens of acrobats flying high above, lions prancing proudly in front of the breathless audience, feathered divas dancing the cancan, the orchestra playing marches, gymnasts and jugglers doing tricks you never thought were possible… The arena is sometimes converted to a giant pool, and amazing light and music shows unfold on the water, featuring humans and animals. The circus changes its programme twice a year, and frequently hosts circus festivals involving foreign artists. The circus is run by the famous animal handlers, Edgard and Askold Zapashny.

Nikolay Galkin/ТАSS

Moscow's oldest menagerie theatre was started in 1912 by Vladimir Durov, the great Russian animal handler, clown, writer, animal psychologist, and paterfamilias of a famous circus dynasty. At Old Man Durov's Corner they continue to practice his humane method of animal handling – no whips or sticks. "Cruelty is degrading, kindness is uplifting," Durov wrote. The little theatre fans have rewarded the "kind theatre" with their love for over a hundred years. For many Muscovites, animal shows is where circus and theatre converge. The granddads and grandmas of today's young people came here as kids to watch The Railway of Mice. They would look on, mesmerized, as the tiny train filled with fifty tiny rodent actors went round and round on real, although minuscule, railway tracks. Kids today continue to enjoy The Railway of Mice. The theatre building looks exactly the same it looked in 1894, when it had just been built by August Weber. Except the theatre is bigger now, consisting of a large space, small space and museum. The large space is for large animals and predators: elephants, hippos, lions, tigers and seals. The small stage is for furry actors with tails, and feathered things.