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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Lockdown woes: Chennai’s iconic snake park says running out of funds, facing closure

The Chennai Snake Park Trust says it no longer has money enough to feed the reptiles, maintain the park and pay its staff.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai |
Updated: June 15, 2021 9:49:46 pm
chennai snake park, chennai snake park shut, covid news chennai, chennai news, covid tamil nandu, indian expressFormerly known as the Madras Snake Park, it houses as many as 300 reptiles, including exotic turtles, lizards, and over 20 species of snakes. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

With the Covid-19 lockdown taking away visitors and income, Chennai’s iconic snake park is on the verge of closure, its management has said.

The Chennai Snake Park Trust was founded by Herpetologist Romus Whitaker in 1972. Formerly known as the Madras Snake Park, it houses as many as 300 reptiles, including exotic turtles, lizards, and over 20 species of snakes.

Owing to the pandemic, the place has been closed to visitors since March 2020, and the management is now struggling to pay its staff, maintain the park and feed the reptiles. A total of 20 staff were employed here before the pandemic, but the number is now down to 10, who have been getting only half their salary since the lockdown.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, Dr S Paulraj, executive chairman of the Trust, said the lockdown has meant no income for the park, and their savings are dwindling each day.

“Maintaining parks with animals differs from other businesses. Even if your park is closed, you still need to feed the reptiles. Before the pandemic, we got a footfall of around 5,000 to 6,000 on weekdays and more than 10,000 on weekends. Annually, we generated around Rs 75 lakh while the income per month was around Rs 6 lakh. Of this, Rs 4 lakh would be used for salaries, and Rs 2 lakh to feed the reptiles. We depend solely on ticket sale for revenue,” he said.

While the state government had allowed tourists for a short window after the first lockdown, the park administration hardly made any revenue due to low footfall, Paulraj said.

“We survived on donations we received from NGOs as part of their CSR activities and through the savings we had. But now, we are running short of funds. The big private sectors that provided us funds are themselves suffering losses due to the pandemic,” he said.

Paulraj added that after 10 years, the park had recently managed to breed the critically endangered Gangetic Gharial. Though they are happy on one hand, they don’t how they are going to protect it and provide nutritious food to it, he added.

“They require fresh fish, but we are not getting contractors to supply us the stock to feed them. Similarly, we require rats, chickens, etc. to feed other reptiles. Due to the lockdown, vehicle movement is low and hence procuring the feed has become costlier,” he added.

Paulraj said he now hopes the Tamil Nadu government and other volunteers donate funds for running the park. He said since they are are a non-profit organisation, they don’t receive funding from the government, like the Arignar Anna Zoological Park or other wildlife sanctuaries in the state. He added that till the government reopens tourism, they require funds to run the park, and later too, a minimum of six months would be needed to get things back to normal.

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