The word “zverinets” in Russian stands for menagerie. Gatchina region has always been famous for its forests and wildlife. When Catherine the Great gave these lands to Orlov, she knew that her boyfriend was the passionate hunter and would enjoy hunting to the full. The Menagerie is about 1000 acres in size and located to the north from the palace.
Catherine the Great planned her Imperial hunt here together with Orloff. The straight alleys in the park were laid out, the enclosures for foxes, hares and wolves were built.
Paul, the next Gatchina owner, gave French flavor to his menagerie. The highlight of his French trip was the deer-hunt in Chantilly, the estate of Prince de Conde. The hunt was organized as the homage to the beautiful lady: Paul’s wife Maria.
The British gardener Heckett was responsible for the Zverinets park reconstruction in 1790s. The area was wooded with spruces, birches, aspens, 30000 lindens were planted as well. Under Paul mostly American and Siberian deer and wild goats were kept here. One old picture shows even camels in Gatchina menagerie.
In 1858 Gatchina became the official Court Hunt area. This was considered the best breeding ground in Europe. Bisons from Belovezha were brought here. The gamekeepers had their own quarters in Gatchina. The wild fowl was various: bears, fallow-deers, boars, roes and other animals.
Alexander III, who lived in Gatchina permanently, had preference for fishing and long walks in the forests. His wife, Maria, on the contrary, was the perfect rider and loved hunting. Nicholas II loved hunting in Gatchina and the last time he came here was in 1914, right before the Great War.
Today Zverinets is also attractive for the nature lovers. There are plenty of various water birds and forest birds. In the park there are squirrels, moles, field mice and 5 different breeds of bats.
Paul I was trying to be chivalrous even when he embarked on hunting. He kept only small-size dogs at the Gatchina kennel. When they were deer-stalking, dogs had enough force only to chase the animal, but could not catch it. This pursuit was more dangerous for the humans than for the animals. Paul gave animals the better chance.
Alexander II loved hunting. This was the main reason he came to Gatchina. Bear-baiting was very risky, but the emperor did it often. He was almost attacked by the bear once.
Nicholas II was also really fond of hunting. Once Nicholas was bear-baiting and the animal went wild. The bodyguard of the Tsar fled in horror, but the gamekeeper was a brave man. He shot the bear down and was awarded with 25 roubles, which was a very good amount of money then. The coward bodyguard was fired.