WHILE Byculla zoo’s special enclosure for the Humboldt penguins, a Rs 45-crore project, will be ready in a month, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is now batting away doubts and queries regarding a larger revamp plan for the 63-acre expanse, to be executed at a cost of Rs 150 crore and divided over two phases. Despite the zoo’s poor reputation and high mortality rate of animals, the civic body will press ahead with an African Savannah section that’s part of the revamp.
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The first phase of the BMC’s ambitious plans involves development of 65 pocket gardens within the premises of Rani Baug and renovation of 10 animal enclosures that are currently empty, followed by the remaining eight which house the small variety of animals. The BMC will renovate the crocodile enclosure at a later stage and will also construct amenities for visitors, including toilet blocks. It will construct an interpretation centre, which will include the enclosure for the penguins and a marine aquarium.
Simultaneously, following the death of a penguin Sunday, the management is now set to respond to a set of doubts regarding its poor preparedness to shelter exotic animals, officials said. “We are in the process of replying to all queries soon, including those raised by the Central Zoo Authority,” zoo director Dr Sanjay Tripathi told The Indian Express. The Central Zoo Authority, which visited the premises last year, is also awaiting the zoo management’s response on infrastructure issues.
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Supriya Bose, an animal activist who a few months ago wrote to the CZA raising her concerns, said she wrote in June that the survival of these species in the Indian tropical climate is uncharted and is under heavy doubts. The following month, CZA wrote to the Byculla zoo, asking them to address Bose’s complaint regarding poor management and upkeep of animals.
“There is no educational value matched with the guidelines that the zoo authorities are following. These exotic animals are not suited for the conditions here. The Byculla zoo has not responded to any of the violations that they have breached,” said Shubhobroto Ghosh, an activist and author of Indian Zoo Inquiry..
According to Sunish Subramanium of the Plants and Animals Welfare Society (PAWS), for many years, the conditions have only gone downhill. “They are just wasting money in bringing exotic species, which is a scam and which should be investigated. Such incidents spoil the reputation of Indian zoos at the international level,” Subramanium added.
On Monday, at least two applications were received by the Byculla police to book the management of the zoo under sections of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. “We are awaiting the zoo to finish their report based on their findings so we could register an FIR as we need evidence,” said Avinash Shingte, senior police inspector with the Byculla police.
But zoo director Dr Tripathi said the expansion plans are on course. “We have acquired a seven-acre land where we are planning to set up an African Savannah. We have also acquired an additional plot of four acres but we are yet to finalise the plan for that land,” he said. He added that the BMC was planning to introduce exotic animals such as a giraffe, ostrich and zebras as part of the Savannah.
To replenish the number of animals, the BMC will use a proposed exchange system with other zoos in the country. “We have received confirmation for around eight such transfers including animals like jackal, small cats like the civet cat, otters, hyenas, sloths and leopards from various zoos in Ahmedabad, Kanpur and even the Sanjay Gandhi National Park,” he said. The zoo authorities have been in talks with a zoo in Gujarat to bring one of their lions in exchange for some of the birds available at the zoo.
The zoo currently has a total of 29 enclosures which is home to around 400 animals. The inmates include 14 species of mammals including elephants, various kinds of deer, hippopotamus, monkeys and neelgai, 28 species of birds including military macau and African grey parrot and six species of reptiles including snakes, crocodiles and turtles.