State’s lone mini zoo loses visitors as malls mushroom

The 35-year-old mini zoo in the state — Sundarvan Nature Discovery Centre — is losing footfall as new malls,theaters and arcades dominate its formerly wild neighbourhood,a former wetland-dotted outskirts of Ahmedabad filled in and built up over the years.

Written by Adam Halliday | Ahmedabad | Published: February 23, 2013 5:03:30 am

The 35-year-old mini zoo in the state — Sundarvan Nature Discovery Centre — is losing footfall as new malls,theaters and arcades dominate its formerly wild neighbourhood,a former wetland-dotted outskirts of Ahmedabad filled in and built up over the years.

“There are many malls around now,with free-entry and air-conditioning,it’s difficult to draw people here,” admits S Sivakumar,the newly-appointed park manager entrusted with reviving the centre.

When the lone mini zoo was started in 1978,it was far from the main city; the Satellite neighbourhood where the Sarkhej-Gandhinagar highway now snakes through with its commercial and residential towers was inhabited by pastoral hamlets,small animals and birds,migratory and endemic,and wetlands.

The 1.3 hectare mini zoo is today surrounded by buildings,a high-security ISRO campus and a busy,six-lane road hosting a BRTS corridor.

The zoo shrunk meanwhile,its small artificial wetland that drew up to 105 different kinds of birds — including herons and,once,a Sarus crane — lost.

Yet in spite of its surroundings’ transformation,the zoo still teems with life even outside its enclosures – 70-odd species of free-roaming birds,80 tree species,wild mongoose and monitor lizards and a community of 350 bats that hang upside down in the canopy’s shade at daytime and venture out to feed after dark,including to drink from Vastrapur lake,a popular evening haunt for residents,a kilometre away.

In the cages remain four mammalian species including a male porcupine that prefers to spend its day digging up the enclosure,a pair of monitor lizards,star tortoises,Central American red-eared slider turtles and 10 species of snakes,including two cobras that rose to attack when this reporter clicked their photographs.

Geese and Turkeys also live in an enclosure with dilapidated roofing,while various kinds of fish circle under-ground aquarium tanks.

Activity has slackened over the past decade due to staff shortages,dwindling programs for children (its main target audience given it is run by the Centre for Environment Education,an Environment Ministry affiliate) and fund shortages. Visitor’s entry is for just two hours on weekdays and less than six hours on weekends,in fact. The park authorities say it has allotted just Rs 70,000 as grants to Sundarvan since 2006,and only staff salaries are footed by the government.

A master-plan is awaiting official approval,and authorities have hit social-media to attract volunteers. A fund-raising photography exhibition is currently underway,and a list of business houses that can be asked for funds in return for mention on signage and boards inside the zoo has been prepared.

New species like crocodiles,more porcupines and an iguana are being sought to attract more people,and more field trips to nearby protected areas planned for school students.“We are thinking more signage,puppet shows,maybe live music performances,nature trails and tree trails,and animal adoption schemes,” said Meena Nareshwar,a member of the zoo’s board.

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