“I SPEND more time with tigers than my family,” says Sonu Singh, who has been a keeper at Mahendra Chaudhary Zoological Park for 18 years, all that time with the zoo’s prized possessions, the Royal Bengal big cats. “Yeh bache the jab inhe yahan laya gaya tha (they were babies when they came here),” he recalls. And Sonu says he loves tigers Diya, Aman, Laksh and Chirag like he loves his own children.
On Tuesday, Sonu interacted with visitors to the zoo, giving them the lowdown about the tigers that have been such a part of his life. The interaction was one in a series of sessions organised by the zoo as part of its National Wildlife Week celebrations.
On Wednesday, a herepetologist, or a reptile expert, will interact with visitors about snakes and other creeping animals. There will also be an essay contest, quiz and painting competition for schoolchildren.
Entry to the zoo is free this whole week.
Giving details about the tigers, Sonu says Diya and Laksh are four-year-old siblings, one male and other female, and are the youngest tigers at Chhatbir. The oldest are Ichra and Chirag, both nine years old. Another tiger, Aman, shares an enclosure with Diya.
He described his duties: arrange their feed, water, bathing them and seeing they are well provided for in extreme weather, with heat blowers in winters and coolers in summers. Ten kgs of buffalo meat is a single meal for one tiger. Sonu knows the likes and dislikes of his “children” and understands them well. Fridays are fasting days for tigers — no meat or feed that day.
“I see and observe many visitors offering biscuits, chips and such junk food to wild animals which is harmful for their health. Visitors even throw tiny stones to attract these animals which is distracting them actually. Normally tigers tend to rest in the daytime and they sleep for 16-18 hours a day. Knowing-unknowingly people are doing them harm which is not good,” says Sonu, as visitors listen to him talk.
The zoo also organised a rally at Mohali in collaboration with Shemrock Senior Secondary school on Tuesday covering the area from the school in Sector 69 to Punjab forest headquarters in Sector 68.
“Save Wildlife Save Earth” was the rally’s slogan to focus attention on the need to protect nature and conserve wildlife, said Harpal Singh, zoo education officer.
He said the objective of organising these activities and programme is to make people aware and sensitise them to the nature and connect with them. Some 200 students with their teachers joined the rally with the local police administration. Conservator forest officer Nidhi Shrisvastava and Dr M Sudhagar, field director of zoo, also participated in the rally.