Arignar Anna Zoological Park

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Arignar Anna Zoological Park (Vandalur Zoo)

The main entrance of the zoo
Date opened 1855 (as Madras Zoo)[1]
1985 (in current location)[2]
Date opening 24 July 1985
Location Chennai, Kancheepuram, Tamil Nadu, India
Coordinates 12°52′45″N 80°04′54″E / 12.87917°N 80.08167°E / 12.87917; 80.08167Coordinates: 12°52′45″N 80°04′54″E / 12.87917°N 80.08167°E / 12.87917; 80.08167
Land area Total: 602 ha (1,490 acres)[3]
Zoo: 510 ha (1,300 acres)[4]
Rescue and Rehabilitation Center:92.45 ha (228.4 acres)
Number of animals 1,657 (2005)[5]
Number of species 163 (2005)[5]
Annual visitors 1.81 million (2010-2011)
Memberships CZA[6]
Major exhibits Tiger, leopard, lion (hybrid), wild dog, lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur, hyena, jackal, blackbucks, Indian bison, barking deer, sambhar, spotted deer, crocodile, snakes, water birds[7]
Website www.aazoopark.in

Arignar Anna Zoological Park (abbreviated AAZP), also known as the Vandalur Zoo, is a zoological garden located in Vandalur, a suburb in the southwestern part of Chennai, India, about 31 kilometres (19 mi) from the city centre and 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Chennai Airport. Founded in 1855, the park was the first public zoo in India. It is affiliated with the Central Zoo Authority of India.[8] Spread over an area of 602 hectares (1,490 acres), including a 92.45-hectare (228.4-acre) rescue and rehabilitation centre, the park is the largest zoological garden in India. The zoo houses 2,553 species of flora and fauna across 1,265 acres (512 ha). As of 2012 the park houses around 1,500 wild species, including 46 endangered species, in its 160 enclosures.[9] As of 2010, there were about 47 species of mammals, 63 species of birds, 31 species of reptiles, 5 species of amphibians, 25 species of fishes, and 10 species of insects in the park.[10] The park, with an objective to be a repository of the state's fauna, is credited with being the second wildlife sanctuary in Tamil Nadu after Mudumalai National Park.[11]

History[edit]

Portrait of Edward Balfour at the Madras Museum

In 1854, Edward Green Balfour, the then director of the Government Central Museum at Madras, persuaded the Nawab of the Carnatic to donate his entire animal collection to the museum. This attracted large crowds and became the nucleus of the Madras Zoo, which was founded in 1855. Balfour started the zoo on the museum premises, and a year later it had over 300 animals, including mammals, birds and reptiles.[12] It was later transferred to the Madras Corporation and shifted to People's Park near Chennai Central railway station at Park Town in 1861, as it was growing. The municipal zoological garden occupied one end of the 116-acre (47 ha) park and was open free to the public.[13][14]

By 1975, the zoo could no longer expand, and it had to be moved out of the city because of space constraints and increased noise pollution due to the city's high-density traffic. Hence it was planned in 1976 to maintain the animals in the zoo in good simulated conditions. In 1976, the Tamil Nadu Forest Department set aside 1,265 acres (512 ha) in the Vandalur Reserve Forest on the outskirts of the city to build the current zoo, which is the largest zoological garden in India and the Indian Subcontinent[15][16][17] and one of the largest in the world.[18] Work started in 1979 at an initial cost of INR 75 million, and the zoo in its new premises was officially opened to public on 24 July 1985 by the then chief minister of Tamil Nadu M. G. Ramachandran, when most of the works were completed. In the beginning, the area was nothing more than a scrub jungle, with practically no tree cover. The zoo authorities and people from surrounding villages collected seeds of different trees from neighbouring areas and afforested the zoo area.[14] In 2001, 92.45 hectares (228.4 acres) of land next to the park was acquired to build a rescue and rehabilitation centre for confiscated and abandoned wild animals, increasing the park's size to 602 hectares (1,490 acres).

In 1955, the zoo held the first All-India Zoo Superintendents Conference, as part of the centenary celebrations.[19] The zoo is named after Tamil politician Arignar Anna.

Objectives, organisational structure, and revenue generation[edit]

Sloth bears in their near-natural habitat in the zoo
An elephant in its natural environment

The main objectives of the park are ex-situ propagation of critically endangered species to prevent their extinction, wildlife education and interpretation aimed at a wider public appreciation of wildlife, and wildlife research to promote wildlife conservation and management.[20][21]

The overall management of the zoo is vested in the director of the park. The director is also the member secretary of the Zoo Authority of Tamil Nadu (formed under Tamil Nadu Society Act), which started functioning from 1 April 2005, and comprises the following members:

  • The Secretary to Government, Environment and Forest Department (Chairman)
  • The Secretary to Government, Finance Department (Member)
  • The Secretary to Government, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries Department (Member)
  • The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Tamil Nadu (Member)
  • Vice-Chancellor, Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (Member)
  • Director, Department of Environment (Member)
  • Commissioner, Tourism Department (Member)
  • Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and Chief Wildlife Warden, Tamil Nadu (Member)
  • Chief Conservator of Forests and Director, AAZP (Member Secretary)

The Government of Tamil Nadu provides funds for paying the zoo staff and maintenance of zoo vehicles. Other expenditures, such as maintenance of animal enclosures, feed for animals, animal health care, maintenance of zoo, drainage, water, electricity and maintenance of battery-operated vehicles, are met from the income generated by the zoo, chiefly by means of the entry fee. Income is also generated from battery-operated vehicle (BOV) charges, elephant rides, toilets lease, bicycle charges from TI cycles, the leased parking area and food and beverages outlets such as Hotel Tamil Nadu, Aavin, and TANTEA. The yearly budget of the park for its developmental and maintenance work is approved by the governing board.

The functions of the zoo are carried out by several departments, namely, administration, animal welfare, commissary (store), transport, research, education and awareness, veterinary, horticulture, security and sanitation. There are currently about 262 full-time staff against a sanctioned strength of 300, including forest rangers, wildlife keepers, biologists and veterinary doctors.[22]

The director in the rank of chief conservator of forests, supported by one additional director, one deputy director, and two assistant directors, heads the park. Other staff include 27 ministerial staff, 39 field staff (including drivers) and 172 permanent workers under various categories. In addition to the regular staff, the park has also employed contract labourers. The veterinary department is headed by one veterinary officer and two veterinary assistant surgeons with two veterinary attendants. The task of education, interpretation, and research is executed by three biologists of the park.

Location and boundaries[edit]

The zoo's nameboard at the entrance

The park is located at Vandalur in the south-western part of the Chennai Metropolitan Area, about 6 kilometres (3.7 mi) from Tambaram and about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) from Chennai Airport. The whole of the park and the proposed night safari zone lie within the Vandalur Reserve Forest area located immediately to the southwest of Tambaram Air Force Station. The eastern and western sides of the park are bordered by Hassan and Otteri lakes, respectively. The main entrance of the zoo lies on the eastern side of the Chennai–Trichy Highway (National Highway 45), also known as the Grand Southern Trunk (GST) Road, near its intersection with the Vandalur–Kelambakkam Road. The lion safari range lies in the north-eastern side of the park, pervading into the reserve forest area, and the rescue and rehabilitation centre and the proposed night safari zone are located at the southern side across the Vandalur–Kelambakkam Road. The Vandalur railway station of the Chennai suburban railway network is located at the north-western side, about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) from the main entrance of the park.[4]

Environment[edit]

A walkway at the zoological gardens
Chitals in the free-range zone
The slope at the walkthrough aviary

The zoo is located within the Vandalur Reserve Forest area.[23] The zoo's ecosystem consists of dry deciduous and dry evergreen scrub forest vegetation of the Eastern Ghats, a degraded forest consisting of mostly thorny bushes, receiving an average annual rainfall of 1,400 millimetres (55 in) and an average annual temperature of 26 °C (79 °F).[24] The terrain is a gentle undulating one[20] ranging in altitude from 10 to 100 metres (33 to 328 ft) with an average elevation of 50 metres (160 ft) above sea level.[24] The park was designed to keep the natural vegetation of the area intact except where enclosures, roads, and structures had to be constructed. Originally a sparse scrub forest invaded by weeds, consisting of species such as Carissa sp., Gmelina sp., Eugenia sp., Acacia sp., Instia sp. and a few other dry evergreen forest species, the park's vegetation was gradually enriched by planting dry evergreen species.[24] The entire campus has been fortified by means of a compound wall,[25] preventing any biotic interference in the park and allowing the natural growth of vegetation, which give the park the look of a natural forest. The park is built based on the 'open zoo' concept. The exhibits were originally based on taxonomic and geographical distribution of the species, but have now been replaced by ecological niches and habitats. The order of priority is local species, followed by regional, national, and international species. The use of moats has made it possible to house predator and prey in extended enclosures that provide a panorama of wildlife. There are over 75 moated enclosures in the park. Enrichments in the form of ladders, climbing materials, etc. are provided for the animals to move around the enclosure freely.[26]

A typical moated enclosure in the zoo

Most of the exhibits in the zoo lie along a circular road covering about 2.5 kilometres (1.6 mi). Smaller mammals and other exhibits are located along three inner roads. The park area is dotted with large open island-type enclosures and chain-link fence, with camouflaged wet and dry moats, hidden walls, and simulated natural environment for the residents of the park.[20]

The remaining area makes up the free-range zone—an open area which makes up the bulk of the park and where animals such as deer and jackals are left to roam free. There are more than 500 deer of different varieties and an equal number of jackals in the free-range zone. In addition, there are four enclosures for deer—each housing about 30 animals.[27] Deer and jackals are found in equal numbers and are known for their fast-breeding ability, especially in their natural environment. The deer–jackal ratio is maintained by the 'natural method of selection'—allowing the stronger ones to prey on the weaker ones—a natural way of balancing the ecological system.

Otteri lake situated on the north-western side within the park premises acts as a roosting ground for a wide array of aquatic migratory birds such as the open-bill stork, painted stork, white ibis, grey heron, night heron, cormorants, darters, egrets, dabchicks, pelicans, great pelicans, glossy ibis and moorhen, making it a bird watchers' paradise. The 7-hectare (17-acre) lake, surrounded by a variety of trees, receives the run-off water from nearly half the area of the park and attracts a large number of migratory birds in October, November, and December. Both terrestrial and aquatic birds of about 70 species congregate here during the season. On average, around 10,000 migratory birds visit the lake each year. About 230 saplings of Barringtonia, a species native to mangrove habitats, have been planted inside the lake to attract more birds.[28]

Exhibits[edit]

Emu in the birds' section
Captive Hippopotamus
Gaur or Indian bison bull
Leopard in its enclosure

The park has 81 enclosures and more than 170 species of mammals, birds and reptiles,[29] such as the barking deer, blackbuck, sambar, sangai, nilgai, wolf, tiger, jaguar, panther, hog deer, jackal, hyena, lion, giraffe, camel, otter, llama, elephant, and a number of monkey species such as Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, baboon, Hanuman langur and leaf-capped langur. There are about 46 endangered animals of the Western Ghats, the Eastern Ghats and the Indian subcontinent such as the Nilgiri macaques, as well as other rare species including monitor lizard, chimpanzees, European brown bear, Muscovy duck, giraffe, Bengal tiger, white tiger, lemur, macaque, vulture, and star tortoises. The park is also home to exotic species such as the Australian flightless bird species of emu and cassowary. The park contains about 138 plant species, including cashew and eucalyptus.[2] The dense vegetation of the park supports about 56 species of butterfly.[24]

Animals at the park as of 30 June 2005 include:[5]

Group Number of species Number of animals
Mammals 46 430
Birds 62 534
Reptiles 29 351
Amphibians 5 72
Fish 21 265
Total 163 1,657
Safaris
Elephants being fed
One of the yards within the lion safari area

As part of the park's development plan, safari parks for lion, gaur and deer have been created on a hilly terrain covering an area of 70 hectares (170 acres), enabling the visitors to see the animals in their natural habitats.

The lion park has been developed in an area of 30 hectares (74 acres) at a cost of about INR 2.358 million and is operational since October 1990 providing the visitors a 15-min drive into the safari. The safari contains 15 animals and these are involved in captive breeding.[30] As the lions started forming groups according to their instincts and compatibility, the zoo authorities apportioned two small areas within the existing safari area in 2012, work on which started in January 2012 at a cost of INR 600,000, enabling the visitors to see one pride in the open forest area and the other two in the newly created fenced yards. These enclosures had been created on a 160-sq m area, with facilities such as rest shed and water trough. Each pride consists of three to four animals.[31]

The deer park was opened in 2008. It covers 35 hectares (86 acres)[32] and is home to more than 100 animals including sambar and spotted deer.

Elephant safari was introduced in the zoo in the summer of 2008, providing a ride on elephants for a tour around the zoo.[33][34] The park is the only place after Mudumalai in the Nilgiris that organises elephant safari rides in the state. There are 3 elephants in the park and 2 more have been brought from Mudumalai to start the safari.[35]

The park authorities plan to create a new Indian Gaur safari in 2011 in part of the current lion safari area. The lion safari has two geographical regions—hilly and plains. At present, the lions move around in the plains region (about 12 hectares (30 acres) of the 30-hectare (74-acre) total area) and are not allowed into the hilly region. The proposed gaur safari would be created on the 18 hectares (44 acres) of the hilly terrain.[36] In 2007, a night safari project in the park was promoted[37][38][39] with two components, namely, an animal exhibit area and an entertainment area. The night safari was being established for providing opportunity to observe the natural wildlife behaviour and activities in the night hours. Initially, it was expected to be implemented during 2010–11 at a cost of INR 40.2 million.[40][41] With the initially allocated sum, the zoo authorities completed construction of enclosures for tiger, elephant, Indian bison, sloth bear, spotted deer and sambar and a large number of saplings was raised to be planted around the night safari area. Nearly INR 78.7 million was spent on construction of the enclosures, surveying the lands, perimeter wall and laying circular roads for the night safari. With delay in getting funds from the Union Ministry, the project was put on hold and the zoo prepared another proposal for INR 820 million for night safari in July 2011. However, this too was deferred by the state government.[42][43]

Sanctuary aviaries
The entrance of the walkthrough aviary

Two aviaries at the zoo were designed to imitate specific bird sanctuaries in Tamil Nadu. The Point Calimere Aviary represents a sanctuary on a bay on the Coromandel Coast of the District of Nagapattinam, where migratory birds including flamingos, seagulls, teals, storks and herons can be seen between October and February every year. These species can be seen year-round in this aviary, where flamingos can feed in the shallows while seagulls swim in deeper water. The aviary has a small island (about 30 square metres (320 sq ft)) with bushy vegetation, and water covering about 110 square metres (1,200 sq ft). The Vedanthangal Sanctuary Aviary represents a sanctuary located in the district of Kanchipuram. It is planted with gum arabic tree, bamboo and other tree species which offer convenient places for birds to rest. Birds such as white ibis, painted stork, night heron and grey heron are found here, and baskets have been provided to facilitate breeding.[2][44]

Walk-through aviary

The terrestrial aviary was opened in 1992, but was closed within a few years due to maintenance issues. It was renovated and reopened in 2010 as the Bio Centre. This 1.5-acre (0.61 ha)[45] walk-through aviary cost about INR 2 million and is located on a slope behind the tiger house (12°52′56″N 80°05′29″E / 12.8823035°N 80.0913191°E / 12.8823035; 80.0913191). The aviary is home to about 150 birds of 13 different species including kingfisher, rose-ringed parakeet, red-whiskered bulbul, white-browed bulbul, Alexandrine parakeet, common myna, koel, crow pheasants, peacocks, partridges, quails and blue rock pigeon, as well as reptiles, amphibians and butterflies. The birds are grouped into three categories—lower, middle and upper nesting varieties. The height of the aviary ranges from 5 metres (16 ft) at the top of the slope to 12 metres (39 ft) at the bottom, with the chain link 'roof' sloping downward from west to east. The aviary is surrounded by a 1-metre (3 ft 3 in) wall, and the four sides above this are covered with steel and blue-coloured nylon net in order to provide an open-sky effect. The ground is floored by tiled footpath lawned with Korean grass to maintain the humidity level. The moist deciduous habitat supports 22 tree and shrub species.[46][47][48]

Walkthrough aviary at the zoo, located on a slope behind the tiger enclosure
Wild migratory birds visit every season
Butterfly house

The butterfly house, constructed at a cost of INR 6 million, has more than 25 host plants and landscaped habitats, such as bushes, lianas, streams, waterfall and rock-gardens, that attract many species of butterflies such as the common Mormon, crimson rose, mottled emigrant, blue tiger, evening brown and lime butterfly. A network of ponds interconnected by streams maintains humidity in the area. The park covers an area of 5 acres.[49] The butterfly garden with an insect museum at the entrance is set up by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore.[50] The insect museum has been planned with an exhibit area comprising insect exhibits representing the most common Indian species of all orders of insects both in the form of preserved specimens and in the form of photographs.[51]

Birds enclosure at the zoo
White stork at the aviary
Reptile house/serpentarium

The reptile house or the serpentarium is built, at the cost of INR 0.4 million,[52] in a twining snake-like model with entrance and exit points in the snake's mouth and tail, respectively. The house was opened to public in the year 1989 and has 24 enclosures exhibiting 4 species of poisonous and 10 species of non-poisonous snakes. It contains a total of 104 snakes, including 41 Indian pythons, 21 Burmese pythons and four cobras.[53] The park has initiated controlled breeding programme for Indian rock python. Each vivarium has been renovated by changing substratum and providing perch and hide outs. The top of the opening in RCC roof is closed with transparent acrylic sheet to avoid rain and the walled enclosure enables the snake to exhibit all natural behaviours. The king cobra is scientifically kept and maintained in constant temperature by providing air conditioning and hot spot.

Amphibian house

The park stands first in the country for establishing an amphibian captive facility, and it is the only zoo in the country to have amphibians on display.[54] Locally available species such as Indian tree frog (Polypedates maculatus), common Indian toad (Bufo melanasticus), Indian bull frog (Rana tigirina), Indian cricket frog (Limnonectus limnocharis) and Indian pond frog (Euphlyctis cyanophlyctis) are exhibited at the Amphibian Centre. A water-recycling system has been introduced to keep the house clean, and plants have been planted inside each tank to add lushness.

Crocodile enclosure

The park houses many species of crocodiles such as the gharial,[55] the marsh crocodile, the salt water crocodile and the American spectacled caiman.[56] Except the Cuban crocodile, the park has all other six major varieties, namely, Indo-Pacific or the salt water crocodile, swamp crocodile, Nile crocodile of Africa, Orinoco crocodile, Morelet's crocodile and American crocodile.[57] The eight enclaves for crocodiles comprise about 220 individuals, including 125 adult specimens belonging to the six varieties. This includes two pairs of adult fresh water crocodiles. Many of the species also breed here.[58][59][60]

Painted storks at the zoo
Primate house

The primate house includes some unique endangered primate species like the lion-tailed macaque, Nilgiri langur, capped langur and chimpanzee. The park is also the National Studbook Keeper for the endangered lion-tailed macaque, nominated by the CZA.[61][62] With the successful execution of the Co-ordinated Captive Breeding Programme (CCBP), the park accounts for around 36 percent of lion-tailed macaques in the country's zoos as of 2011.[63]

World of nocturnal animals

The nocturnal animals section houses six species. The biological rhythm and cycle of the animals has been modified so that they are active during the day time and sleep during the night time.

Shark-shaped aquarium in the zoo
Small mammals house

The newly constructed Small Mammals House has animals such as the grizzled giant squirrel and the Malayan giant squirrel. The zoo also houses many small carnivores and animals of the Western Ghats.

Aquarium

The shark-modelled aquarium, with its entrance and exit points in the form of gills of the shark, is set amidst a pond and houses 31 species of fresh-water fishes. The pond surrounding the aquarium too has different varieties of fishes.

Other sections

Other sections in the zoo include the prey–predator concept enclosures (tiger–sambar), Prehistoric Animal Park with life-size models of prehistoric animals and insectarium complex, apart from an interpretation centre, zoo school and children's park. The zoo school, opened in 2000, has formulated conservation, education and awareness programmes for academics and general public that includes teacher training, zoo outreach and volunteers programmes, such as Zoo Club Volunteer Programme and Animal Keepers Training Programme. The zoo also has a library with a collection of wildlife-related books.[20] The library functions twice a week, on Mondays and Fridays.[64]

A panoramic view of Bengal tigers

Captive breeding[edit]

The zoo is among four in the country to have ostriches

The Central Zoo Authority of India (CZA) has identified the park as coordinating zoo for the breeding programmes for endangered species as per the National Zoo Policy adopted by the Government of India in 1988, which states that the main objective of zoos will be to complement and strengthen national efforts in the conservation of the country's rich biodiversity and that the species which have no chance of survival in the wild would be bred under ex-situ conditions. The park has a high rate of success in captive breeding of lion-tailed macaques.[65] In 2010, the zoo had 22 lion-tailed macaques, from a breeding pair that were brought to the zoo in 1983.[22] The park is also successful in breeding other rare species in captivity, including ostrich,[66] Asian palm civet,[67] Indian gaur,[68] wild dog,[69] Asiatic lion,[70] Nilgiri langur,[71] sangai, hippo,[72][73] Malabar giant squirrel, white tiger,[74][75] Asiatic wolf, panther[76] and bison.[77] The zoo is among four in the country to have an ostrich. The park also undertakes cross-breeding as part of its conservation efforts.[78] The park is also a participating zoo of the CZA for the captive breeding of rock python, Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, Asiatic lion, wild dog, Asiatic wolf, and gaur.[79] The zoo also promotes exterior conservation—conservation of rare species in their natural habitat—whereby individuals born in the zoo are released in the wild after adequate training, as per the guidelines of the CZA.[23]

Other facilities[edit]

Electric vehicle (left) and vehicle for lion safari (right) at the zoo.

The park has tree-lined paved paths for long treks inside the campus, enabling the visitors to walk 15 to 20 kilometres (9.3 to 12.4 mi) during a visit. Battery-operated vehicles with a range of up to 80 kilometres (50 mi) are available for rent. There are about 9 such vehicles in addition to the 4 battery-operated vans used for the lion safari and 4 diesel-run road rails[80] used for going around the zoo, and the zoo plans to purchase more.[81] Each vehicle can carry 15 to 20 people, and each trip takes about an hour. A trial program of 20 rental bicycles for visitors, including 5 for children, was launched in 2008 as an eco-friendly option intended to reduce demand for the battery-operated cars.[82] An e-bike facility was also inaugurated on 20 February 2010.

Refreshment outlets include a snack bar run by the Tamil Nadu Tourism Development Corporation (TTDC),[46] an ice cream parlour and a soft drinks counter—all near the entrance. The park also maintains 16 toilets and nearly two dozen drinking fountains within the premises for the visitors. The zoo is open to public from 8:30 am to 5:30 pm except on Tuesdays, when the zoo carries out weekly maintenance works. All the animals, especially the big cats, are back in their cages after 5.00 pm and most tourists prefer to visit them before going on to the other exhibits.[83] The zoo has a guest house located on Kelambakkam Road.[84]

The zoo is fenced on all sides by means of the perimeter wall. The zoo security is mainly carried out by the forest subordinate staff of rangers, foresters and forest guards along with zoo security staff, who conduct regular patrolling of animal enclosures, stores and other buildings. Night security is carried out under the command of one range officer and other subordinates. The zoo has also employed private security personnel. From 1 December 2010, four persons from a private security service have been deployed along with forest rangers for night patrolling.

In July 2013, ambulance facility, equipped with an oxygen cylinder, pulse monitor, critical care monitor, stretcher, surgical tools, small cages, tranquilizing darts and emergency medicines, for animals inside the premises was inaugurated.[85]

Renovation[edit]

One of nine white tigers at the zoo

In February 2011, the zoo began construction of a large new tiger cage at a cost of about INR 200,000, and the new cage will be linked to the existing one. The existing enclosure measures 26.64 feet in height, length and width. The new cage will be 13 metres (43 ft) tall at its highest point and 11 metres (36 ft) wide, enough for four adult tigers at a time. It will have separate entries for the animal keeper and the animals. Illuminated by solar-powered lights, it will have a sloping roof and good ventilation.[86] There are 18 tigers in the zoo, 9 of which are white tigers.[87]

For the first time since the shifting of the zoo from Park Town in 1979, the park underwent a major renovation in 2011, costing INR 32.5 million.[88] The renovated entrance was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, on 19 June 2012. The new 6-m wide entrance features 250-m long, 2.7-m high brick-and-granite wall, with 43 mural relief sculptures representing different animals in the zoo and a 12-m fenced lawn. The main entrance tower is 10.5 m tall, with two adorning structures 8.5 m each on either side.[89] Other additions include huge lawns covering nearly 300 m on both sides of the entrance, tiled floors, an interpretation centre (similar to the one at the Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary) with LED displays at the entrance, additional ticket counters, and a souvenir shop selling memorabilia like T-shirts and artefacts showcasing the flora and fauna of the sub-continent. The new entrance also features 20 computerised ticket counters to handle huge crowds.[88]

The zoo authorities are in the process of restoring and renovating the approach road to Otteri lake, located inside the zoo. Post-monsoon, the lake attracts many migratory birds, and the lake could act as an ideal spot to view birds at close quarters. Hence, a bird's viewpoint is being built to encourage bird watching.[90]

Visitors[edit]

During April 2010–March 2011, the zoo received nearly 1,810,846 visitors, as against 1,187,904 visitors in 2006–2007.[91] In November 2010, the total revenue was INR 46.9 million, against INR 40.2 million during October 2009.[26][92] There has been an increase of more than 200,000 visitors in 2010 compared to 2009, and the park had recorded a 21 percent increase in the number of visitors.[93][94][95] The number of visitors raises to the peak on the Kaanum Pongal day, a day in the festival season of mid-January, when the visitor count goes up to 63,000 on a single day. About 57,000 visitors arrived on the Kannum Pongal day of 2009, resulting in revenue of INR 1.015 million.[96] It was 56,555 in 2010 and 57,217 in 2011. The all-time record of 63,000 visitors a day was registered on the Kannum Pongal day of 2012, resulting in revenue of INR 1.1 million.[97]

One of the two ticket counters at the entrance plaza

The number of visitors to the zoo is steadily growing by an estimated 10 to 15 percent every year.[90] The visitor statistics and the revenue generated over the past years are listed below:

Year Total number of visitors Total revenue (in Indian rupees)
2002-2003 711,589 8,280,254.50
2003-2004 700,963 11,070,930.00
2004-2005 668,026 11,135,581.00
2005-2006 848,823 14,446,000.00
2006-2007 1,187,904 20,251,945.00
2007-2008 1,447,992 25,074,288.00
2008-2009 1,646,129 30,387,902.00
2009-2010 1,604,216 40,286,000.00
2010-2011 1,810,846 46,997,710.00

Programmes and activities[edit]

The park has a zoo club, comprising college students, which was formed in 1997. The club helps keep the premises clean, and the members also conduct educational programmes and carry out patrols.[98]

Following the death of a llama at the park after swallowing a plastic bag, plastic materials have been banned inside the park premises. Visitors are frisked at the entrance to restrict all plastic goods.[99] The members of the zoo club are 98 percent successful in controlling the entry of plastic materials inside the park. The zoo also plans to introduce 'Friends of the Zoo' programme in line with the National Zoo Policy, prepared by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1998.

The park launched a zoo newsletter in 2000 to serve as a source of current news and developments in the park. Efforts are being made to publish the newsletter at regular intervals.

From 22 to 24 September 2000, the park conducted a workshop for keeping and breeding amphibians in captivity for the first time in India.

The zoo performed the world's first non-invasive birth-control surgery on mugger crocodiles

The park, along with the Chennai Snake Park, Madras Crocodile Bank and the Mysore Zoo, is slated to become a nodal point for captive breeding of endangered pythons in the country, especially the Indian rock python (Python molurus) and reticulated python (Python reticulatus).[100]

In 2007, the zoo started to construct a separate breeding enclosure for the lion-tailed macaque, proposing to bring under Foreign Animal Exchange Programme. The enclosure was built at a cost of INR 1.6 million at a silent, remote place in the park to provide a natural habitat for the animals and to ensure breeding. The total enclosure measures about 3,000 sq m, including three rooms with about 250 sq ft. Three pairs of macaque could be kept in these rooms. The habitat is planted with fruit-bearing trees, including gooseberry and mangoes.[101]

In July 2008, the world's first non-invasive birth control surgery on mugger crocodiles was performed in the park by the surgeons of the Madras Veterinary College to control breeding and inbreeding.[102]

In September 2008, the park initiated Adopt An Animal, an animal adoptation programme,[103] which has seen a few takers so far in the state, with less than 20 sponsors, mostly individuals and companies, coming forward. The first adoptation began with adopting a spotted deer, a peacock, two lovebirds and a parrot in June 2009.[104][105] The park has received funds to a tune of INR 2.3 million from individuals and organisations for adopting animals between August 2010 and March 2011.[106]

The park has developed an informative and illustrative guide in collaboration with the Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Ahmedabad, providing zoo ethics and comprehensive information including road map to the animal enclosures and visitor amenities.

In 2012, for the first time in the country, the park adopted 'social grouping' of animals in captivity, where members of same species would be kept together, to showcase how they interact in groups.[107]

In March 2013, a blood transfusion performed on a 10-year-old hyena by a four-member team of doctors in the zoo, marking the first successful blood transfusion done for a wild species in an Indian zoo.[108]

Animal care[edit]

Owing to its vastness and round-the-clock availability of animal medical care facilities, most of the rescued animals in the state, especially elephants, are brought to the park.[109][110] With Chennai serving, unfortunately, as a transit point for wildlife smugglers in Southeast Asian countries, the zoo also receives many recovered endangered species for rehabilitation.[111] The three important captive management practices of the zoo that contributed to the longevity of animals include environment enrichment, psychological well-being and animal husbandry and veterinary care. There has been a considerable reduction in the mortality rate of animals in captivity at the park. Between April 2010 and March 2011, only 22 animals were reported dead, of which 9 died due to old age and the remaining owing to other health-related problems and infighting.[112] Incidents of infighting, although rare, have been reported in the park.[113]

Bengal tiger

With the guidance provided by the CZA, kraals—fencing of a portion of the moated enclosure—were created in the herbivore enclosures in 2003 in order to isolate and treat sick or wounded animal. Herbivores with physical problems are isolated in the facility to be checked by the vets. One of the corners of the enclosure is chosen mainly to keep visitors away from the treated animals. Kraals have been created in the enclosures of spotted deer, blackbuck, sambar, nilghai, barking deer, hog deer, brow-antlered deer, moufflon and bison. To make the animals get accustomed to the kraal, the feed is kept inside the premises. Apart from treating animals, the kraal also acts as a place for isolating animals in rut. For example, during mating season, males often fight with each other leading to problems for the veterinarians. To overcome this, the males are kept in kraals in isolation from other males. Kraals also help research scholars in observing and recording the movement and other activities of the animal, thus helping with studying their behavioural pattern.[114]

The zoo also has a zoo kitchen, zoo hospital and quarantine facility. Every day, about 190 kg of non-perishable food items, 300 kg of perishable foods, 750 kg of beef and fish, 430 kg of cattle feed and 2,000 kg of fodder are being provided to the zoo inmates. A rat-breeding centre has been constructed near the store house to cater the needs of snakes. The fodder bank raised in the zoo premises fulfils the fodder requirement of the herbivores population in the park. The zoo orchard with trees such as mango, guava, and coconut supplies fruits for the park's daily requirement.

Indian lions
Rescue and rehabilitation centre

With the banning of training and exhibition of five species of animals, namely, lion, tiger, panther, bear and monkey enforced by the Government of India in 1998,[115] a 92.45-hectare (228.4-acre) rescue and rehabilitation centre for animals was established next to the zoo with the assistance of the CZA in 2001. The area was acquired from the research wing of the Tamil Nadu Forest Department in continuity with the fodder bank of the zoo with an assistance of INR 14.598 million. The centre provides temporary and long-term care for confiscated and abandoned endangered animals, such as lions and tigers rescued from circuses, and is home to about 32 lions and 7 tigers.[29] It has a capacity to house 40 lions and 20 tigers.[116] It also has a reptile house and an aviary.[117] The park is one of the five zoos in the country identified and funded by the CZA for the rehabilitation of circus animals. The rehabilitation centre is not open to the visitors.[118]

Zoo veterinary hospital

The zoo veterinary hospital is responsible for disease prevention and health care management of the park's captive population. The hospital has a well-equipped operation theatre, in-patient ward, radiology unit, laboratory, clinical room, pathology room, quarantine facilities and convalescent yard fully functional to cater the needs of complete animal health care.[29] It also includes a modern diagnostic laboratory with facility for periodic coprological examination, identification of causative organism, antibiotic sensitivity, pregnancy diagnosis, haematology, serology and urinalysis.

Conservation[edit]

Water management

The zoo requires about 600,000 litres (160,000 US gal) of water per day[32] for drinking, bathing animals, cleaning enclosures, and keeping the areas around them cool, much of which comes from the Tamil Nadu Water Supply and Drainage Board (TWAD). The remainder comes from 13 open wells, 5 borewells and the Otteri lake within the zoo premises. In 2011, the zoo started constructing rainwater harvesting systems, including small bunds and check dams, to store water during the monsoon that would otherwise be lost.[119] Three troughs and a checkdam have already been constructed in the safari to help store the natural runoff from the nearby hillock.

Several enclosures, such as that of hyenas, are lit by solar power
Power management

As of 2012, the zoo uses a lone 100-kV generator to meet the power shortage. The zoo has proposed to buy another 100-kV generator at a cost of INR 800,000.[32]

In 2011, to save power and increase safety, solar powered lights were installed in 14 enclosures at the park at a cost of INR 200,000. The lion safari (old and new) and enclosures for white tigers, panthers, bears, hyenas, chimpanzee, a pair of lions, jackal, wild dog, owl, sloth bear, and brown bear are lit by solar power for about three hours every evening. Each system includes a solar panel and a 250-kv battery connected to a 33-volt bulb and can supply power for up to 8 hours.[120]

Crocodiles sun-bathing
Heat management

The soaring temperature in Chennai, especially during summer, demands extra care for residents of the zoo. Fortunately, the temperature inside the zoo campus is a couple of degrees lower than outside any time of the year, primarily due to the lush greenery.[99] The park also maintains an exclusive summer management schedule. All animal enclosures have thatched roofs and fresh river sand spread on the floor to make it cooler for the animals. Water is sprinkled on the sand to provide extra cooling. Roofs of water birds' enclosures are covered with coconut leaves and wet gunny bags.[32] Caves that are exposed directly to the sun are put under a shower twice a day. The enclosure for the king cobra has an air conditioner in order to provide an environment similar to its natural habitat as the species cannot withstand the summer heat.[121] For birds, the topmost part of the cage is covered with jute bags, and water is sprinkled three times a day. Based on the temperature, cucumber, buttermilk, apple and banana are also served to herbivores.[122][123] The zoo has also set up sprinklers to help animals beat the summer heat and is planning to set up about 20 more sprinklers at the deer safari.[32]

In 2011, to increase the green cover, the forest department initiated to plant 25,000 saplings in the zoo.[124]

Incidents[edit]

In January 2002, when a panther from the Vandalur reserve forest entered into the zoo premises, the zoo was closed for over 45 days to facilitate search for the animal. After several attempts, the animal was finally trapped, and it was named after the zoo keeper, Arumugam, who first noticed the feline in the trap cage and alerted his superiors.[125][126][127][128]

The white tiger cub that turned black, with its mother

On 12 November 2007, a 13-ft long reticulated python was found in a ventilator inside the pygmy hippopotamus enclosure in the zoo. According to the zoo officials, the rescued python could have escaped from its enclosure, when it was young, 4 to 5 years ago. When the workers tried to take the reptile, it bit one of the animal keepers, but since it was a non-poisonous one, the animal keeper was not harmed fatally and was provided treatment for the injury. The reptile was feeding on small mammals, roaming freely inside the zoo, which helped it survive without any problem.[129]

On the night of 10 July 2010, three sand boas (Eryx johnii), out of five in the enclosure, were reported stolen from the zoo.[96]

In January 2011, 50 birds died under dubious circumstances in the park within a month. Later, postmortem report found that they were poisoned.[130]

In September 2011, a nine-feet-long Burmese python was reported missing from its enclosure at the serpentarium. The animal keeper forgot to close the channel connecting the snake's enclosure with an outlet outside with a piece of wood after the weekly clean-up, and the python had managed to crawl out. On 5 December 2011, after about 3 months, the animal was found in the bushes near the enclosure after swallowing a chicken kept near the enclosure as bait.[53]

A three-year-old male white tiger succumbed to injuries suffered during a fight with its potential mate, a nine-year-old Royal Bengal tigress, on 7 August 2013. The tigress, also severely injured following the fight. Deep wounds in the brain had resulted in the tiger’s death. The incident came as a blow to officials at the Arignar Anna Zoological Park in Vandalur, who have been trying to prevent in-breeding among white tigers and strengthen the species gene through cross breeding. Christened by former Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi in September 2010, the deceased white tiger, Sembian, was paired with a nine-year-old Royal Bengal tigress, Sathya, a few months ago.[131]

Future[edit]

In 2012, a wild-life research institute was proposed to be built inside the park at an expense of INR 342.4 million. This institute will be further developed in three years with the estimate totaling INR 743.7 million, with centres for ecological education and awareness, wildlife forensic research, and herbivores and carnivores field research.[132]

In 2012, a turtle-shaped building was planned at an estimated cost of INR 400,000 to house various types of turtles in the park.[133]

In February 2013, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa ordered to establish a wildlife research centre at the Park at a cost of INR 271.3 million. The centre will house eight research laboratories,[134] including a nature education and awareness centre, wildlife forensic science research centre, and field research centres for herbivorous and carnivorous animals and will have two scientists, four junior researchers and two assistant veterinary doctors. The centre would cost the government an annual continuing expense of INR 2.699 million.[135] The foundation stone for the research centre, which will be located opposite the main campus, was laid on 15 March 2013.[136] The construction work is expected to be completed by mid-2014.[134]

In July 2013, the public works department (PWD) was expected to begin work on a butterfly park in the zoo, an initiative sanctioned in 2001. The park is being constructed at a cost of INR 50 million. The caterpillar-shaped park with a landscaped habitat, nectar gardens, a walking bridge, pathways for visitors, breeding and rearing centres, and rock gardens will be built on 2.5 hectares, including the actual built-up area of 2,000 sq ft near the Otteri lake. The park has a network of ponds interconnected by streams to maintain humidity level. The caterpillar design was chosen because the 60-ft-long tube-like structure made of acrylic sheets, which will keep the inside of the building cool by absorbing less heat. The park will have more than 40 Indian species, including the Common Leopard, Blue Mormon, Yellow Pansy, Red Helen, and Common Jezebel. Apart from local butterfly species, the park will host at least 80 exotic sepecies of butterflies including the four-barred Swordtail from Australia, the Common Savanna Bush Brown from South Africa, the Australian painted lady and the Danaid Eggfly. The park will have a capacity to accommodate at least 100 persons at any given time and is expected to be ready by September 2013.[137]

In 2013, a forest and wildlife museum was planned at the zoo, for which a budget of INR 2 million has been earmarked by the state forest ministry, including INR 500,000 for preparing display furniture, INR 200,000 for labelling, special light arrangements and fans, and INR 1.3 million for the collection and preparation of materials, a herbarium, xylarium, entomological collection, portraits, soil and rock collections and artefacts. The museum will be built near the exit gate on a 2,000 sq ft area. The museum is expected to be completed by the end of 2013–2014 financial year.[138]

See also[edit]

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