‘Not possible to scientifically plan breeding of animals in herds’: Chhattbir Zoo Director

Dr Manish Kumar, the field director of Chhattbir Zoo, talks about the challenges of zoo management.

By: Express News Service Written by Vinod Kumar | Chandigarh | Published: June 6, 2016 5:27 am
Chhattbir Zoo, Chhattbir Zoo director, zoo, zoo animals, zoo animals care, protection of animals, protection od zoo animals, Dr Manish Kumar, Chandigarh zoo Dr Manish Kumar

What are the major attractions of the Chhattbir Zoo?
Spread over 505 acres, it is the largest zoo in north India. The zoo has over 1,200 animals of 104 species, including some endangered and exotic ones, living in more than 100 enclosures. The major attractions include carnivorous like Royal Bengal Tiger, lions, leopards, jaguars; omnivorous like Asiatic bears; mega herbivorous like hippopotamus and elephants. The zoo also has houses for reptiles and nocturnal animals. The natural ambience of the zoo gives a feeling of forest to the tourists.

How the zoo has developed over the years?
The construction work started in the 70s and today Chhattbir Zoo is one of the most developed zoological parks in the region. Over the years, the number of animals and birds has increased manifold and the facilities provided to them have also improved significantly. The footfall of tourists and revenue generation have also witnessed an upward trend.

What are the biggest challenges in the zoo management?
The major challenge is management of animals and visitors. For effective functioning of a zoo, a balance has to be struck between the management of animals and tourists. As far as animal management is concerned, the biggest challenge is to keep all the animals, with different physiological and climatic requirements, hale and hearty. Simulating a natural environment to fullfil the requirements of the animals in a small area of 505 acres with limited resources is not an easy task. A lot of emphasis is laid on their well-being, housing, feeding and health. We have to maintain inventory of all the animals with all the required details. Every quarter, a report is sent to the Centre stating the number of animals present in the beginning and the end of a quarter. We are under constant scanner of the Centre. In the zoo, if a single animal falls sick, the entire staff get on their toes. For visitors, we have to ensure that they get best of the facilities. The number of visitors varies from time to time and we have to study the pattern and make appropriate arrangements in terms of transportation inside the zoo, eateries, water facilities, shelters and washrooms. During peak days, we get around 10,000 visitors. We have to plan in such a way they face no inconvenience.

How much money is spent on animal welfare?
Animal welfare is an important part of budget allocation and a major portion goes towards it. On an average, around Rs 20 lakh is spent on food and medicines for animals per month. For over 1,200 animals, we have a manpower of 400 people. There is a full- fledged veterinary hospital in the zoo.

Is there any health programme for the animals?
There is a well-defined healthcare system in the zoo for the animals. We have a prescribed health programme that includes specific vaccination for the big animals, both omnivorous and herbivorous. We have a regular health monitoring protocol under which blood samples of all the major animals are collected every three months to check any variation. We also do a de-worming programme regularly.

Animals are in captivity and being watched by visitors. Do they suffer from stress?
Everybody has some sort of stress, be it humans or animals. The level of stress in animals varies from species to species. Stress cannot be attributed directly to captivity. There are other kinds of stress also, like climatic. A lot of emphasis is given on the welfare of animals and we have set procedures for summer and winter care. The kinds of enclosure zoo have, fulfills almost all the requirements of all the species. If an animal is exhibiting natural behaviours in captivity and breeding well, it reflects that it is happy.

How do you strike a balance between the two — caring for older animals and opening space for new ones?
There is problem of overcrowding with some species and that does not occur overnight. The number increases gradually and you can foresee and make appropriate arrangements. There is exchange programme under which zoos exchange surplus animals with each other. Every zoo has a list of surplus animals and they circulate the list among others. There is no system of culling the animals like in many western countries. All the animals are retained till their death. The old animals are not considered as liability.

Are animals bought or sold?
Selling is not allowed under the Wildlife Protection Act. There is no tag value on any species. The only way of increasing the number of a particular species is by way of breeding or exchange programme. The breeding programme of Chhattbir Zoo has drawn criticism for not being scientifically planned. It is not possible to scientifically plan breeding of animals in herds. In the past, Chhattbir Zoo faced criticism for rampant breeding of Asiatic and African lions and we learned from our mistakes. We have moved forward and now Chhattbir Zoo is among the few zoos in the country that is doing breeding of pure Asiatic lions.

Does the zoo has a conservation breeding programme?
Conservation breeding is done only in cases of endangered species that we intend to release back into the wild. The breeding is done in captivity. These species are kept away from any kind of human imprinting. We have been assigned conservation breeding programme by the Centre for falcons. All the formalities have been completed and the programme will start after getting a founder population to start the project.

The zoo had a large number of hybrid lions around 10 years ago. The number has come down drastically. Why?
In the past, Asiatic and African lions were bred. Restrictions were imposed by the government on breeding of hybrid lions. As a result, the population came down slowly. Now we are left with only one animal of the previous lot, remaining are pure Asiatic lions.

What are the facilities this zoo lacks?
The resources are limited and we have to prioritise between mandatory facilities and luxury. As far as mandatory facilities are concerned, we have all the facilities. We have also prepared a plan of facilities for the future. Many new projects are coming up in the zoo. One project related to improving visitors’ facility is in progress and is being funded by the Asian Development Bank. Under the project, a nature interpretation centre will be set up and the zoo will be renovated. Main roads inside the zoo will be renovated and an education park is also coming up.

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