Penguins in desert for Turkmenistan's leader

Turkmenistan’s President-for-life, Saparmurat Niyazov, has ordered a zoo be built for 300 species of birds and animals, including penguins, in the Central Asian republic’s Kara Kum desert, state television announced on Tuesday.

The decision comes a year after the 65-year-old strongman announced construction of an ice palace capable of holding 1 000 people.

A Turkish firm is expected to complete construction of the 40ha park within a year, the TV report said.

“The zoo will be situated north of Ashkhabad where the Kara Kum desert begins. The animals will live there in conditions close to those of their natural habitat and the zoo will cost several million dollars,” said an official at the Turkmen environment ministry, which will select the animals.

“We are examining the possibility of acquiring animals from the four corners of the planet, such as penguins from the north,” the source said.

The zoo is the latest in a series of grandiose projects ordered by the man who styles himself “Turkmenbashi”, the leader of all Turkmen, whose gas-rich country of five million is dotted with statues of himself and his mother.

In August last year, he ordered that a giant ice palace be built in mountains north of the capital, but doubts were raised about whether it could be sustained in a desert country that receives just 100mm to 250mm of precipitation a year.

Temperatures average minus one degree Celsius in winter and range up to 30 degrees Celsius in summer.

Last month, state-run media reported Niyazov’s spiritual guide book Rukhnama was blasted into space with two Japanese satellites from the Russian launch station in Kazakhstan as proof that Turkmenistan had joined the space-powers club.

The president, whose poetry and philosophical writings dominate radio and television programmes, last month banned recorded music at public events and on television in a bid to protect Turkmen culture from foreign influences.

Opera and ballet have long been outlawed as “unnecessary”.

Turkmenistan’s national anthem is titled Turkmenbasyn Guran Beyik Binasy (The Country that Turkmenbashi Has Built).—AFP