In 1982, Delhi zoo was rechristened as National Zoological Park. The name was changed to make sure that it would be a role model for other zoos in the country. With its area, range of animal species and facilities, it may qualify as one of the top zoos of the country but does it make the cut to be the best, is the question. There are challenges that will need introspection, more so from many visitors who come to the park followed by its staff and officials, after all lives of our animal species, of which many of them are endangered, are at stake. Can we overcome our man versus wild instinct and take this big responsibility?
The dates of September 23, 2014 and February 12, 2016, mean a different deal for National Zoological Park as on both dates there was an attack by the white tiger on a man. In 2014 unfortunately a young life was lost; in 2016 an employee Bhairav was injured when, according to the officials, the standard operating procedures were not rightly followed in providing the meal to the tiger. Beat 8 which houses Vijay, the white tiger that was involved in mauling Maqsood to death in 2014, is still very popular. It has almost been two years to that incident but one can’t get over it especially when one gets a view of the 180 kg carnivore. The term ‘kill’ only should not be associated with Vijay. Recently Vijay fathered five cubs with Kalpana- the tigress, out of which one of the cubs unfortunately passed away after a month due to choking. The survival of Vijay-Kalpana and their offsprings is a big responsibility. With its population now less than even 150, the majestic white tiger is now among the endangered species. A prized kill for poachers, Vijay, Kalpana and their cubs, have found a safe haven in the realms of the Delhi zoo.
Vijay, who was born in 2007, finds his lineage from Mohan who was captured in the jungles of Rewa, Madhya Pradesh in 1951. Being its prized and popular possession, Vijay and his family is also being taken care of by the officials with proper steps taken as far his diet is concerned which includes 10-12 kg of buffalo meat, provision of water and adequate time for exercise.
As per a zoo official, a proper standard operating procedure is being maintained where not all the white tigers are let out at once because there is a fear of confrontation and injuries. Also strict rules are being followed irrespective of the pressure from the public. Even as Vijay seems relaxed, silent and less excited to many who view him at this time of the year, it’s quite the opposite for the crowd coming to see him. Apart from the excitement and admiration for the carnivore, there is also indecency in the form of screaming, teasing and also climbing of railings just to divert the attention with a short term motive of capturing the aggressiveness of the big cat or get a good picture of it in one’s cell phone. The unruliness of some people is majorly felt when incidents where indecent behaviour towards jaguar and leopard is noted at the zoos. Ridhima Desai, a documentary filmmaker who often frequents the place for her documentaries on wildlife says, “ I think there is a man versus wildlife instinct in most of us, many of us know that these species who are actually away from their natural habitat are not comfortable and are trying to adjust yet despite knowing their condition many of us want to dominate them and make them feel that we control them and this reflects in their behaviour.”
The dominating spirit which turns to indecent behaviour can also be seen in the way people react towards Hoolock Gibbon. Presently two in number, one male and one female, these mammals have a loud, unique and a playful sound; sadly the sound is used as an excuse to scare and tease the unique creatures.
According to zoo officials almost 7000 people visit the zoo on weekdays and about 15,000 people visit the zoo on weekends. The poor crowd management at the zoo results in flaring tempers especially during weekends at the ticket counters. The bad behaviour of the public cannot discount for the limitations within. Nestled in an area of 176 acres with 106 species of 1350 animals, it still has to make its mark to be the best. In the TripAdvisor’s survey of the best zoos in the country, Delhi zoo acquired the 13th place with Mysore, Darjeeling and Hyderabad achieving the first three places. Zoos at Gangtok, Naintal and Kolkata placed higher.
Managing the unruly lot is a challenge as conceded by the officials who maintain that bad behaviour by some in the public result in an increase in anxiety, restlessness and aggressiveness among the animals and this also affects their health.
Many officials agree that ageing, infections, influenza and injuries caused due to internal fights is harming the health of many animals and also leading to their deaths. As per the zoo inventory, deer breeds like black buck, barking deers, spotted deers are the most affected. Furthermost, many mammals at the zoo do not have mating partners or there is a mismatch. Even as the zoo officials have said that they would be bringing in a male Himalayan bear this Holi and there are also talks of bringing in a male rhinoceros from the Patna zoo for the two female rhinoceros partners- getting new species, successful breeding and maintaining the health of the present ageing breed is a challenge. Just recently out of the two lionesses at the zoo, one lioness has suffered a paralytic attack and is therefore hardly seen to venture outside.
With the upcoming onset of summer, the fear of infections affecting the animals is a cause of concern for the zoo officials who are gradually preparing for it. Even as animals’ health being affected is not a new phenomenon in the Delhi zoo, the much publicised killing of a youth by the white tiger has resulted in more visibility of the limitations of zoo.
The visit to National Zoological Park, still remains a favorite among family outings as Parmider Sodhi, a parent of a five-year old puts it, “I don’t think that the present generation, which includes my kids as well, will be able to see such majestic creatures in future so it is important that they get to witness and respect wildlife and the beauty of nature on the whole, whatever is left of it.” Sodhi is among those parents who like bringing their children to the zoo.
To promote wildlife education, a lot of emphasis is being paid to subsidise the price of an already reasonable ticket. Being functional from 1959, the National Zoological Park has a challenge to live upto as far as the maintenance is concerned where an effective crowd management, well trained and a motivated staff, introduction of new species and providing conditions for their survival and adaptation, is the key. Riyaz Khan, the public relation official, sounds optimistic saying,” That because of the care provided to animals, their rate of survival becomes rises than being in the wild.” The statement holds relevance as there have been reports that from March 31,2014, 60 mammals including an endangered sloth bear and five Bengal tigers died at the zoo. Khan however assures that every step is being taken to ensure the safety of the animals; after every three months there is a test which is conducted to assess the health of animals residing in the zoo.
Many officials held their ground saying that barring small problems, which are a part of every large mechanism, factors are positive and the zoo is working fine. Maybe for the good and also for the survival of the wildlife, the main source of getting an insight into the wildlife, has now become confined to the enclosures of the zoo. Ultimately, it depends on the general populace that whether this man versus wild instinct can be controlled and whether the animals can be provided their share of life even if they feel inhabited at a fixed enclosure.