A regal tiger pacing up and down, exotic birds chirping away and monkeys swinging around– sights on television? Not if you visited a zoo. When was the last time you went to one?
Once upon a time, people frequented the zoo on Sundays with their families. Marvelling at lions, bears and crocodiles would take up almost the entire day and what fun it was! But is it the same anymore? Or, is it the end of the road for zoos?
No it is not assures Sugato Dutt, deputy director of Chennai’s Vandalur Zoo, also known as Arignar Anna Zoological Park.
“Yes, there are plenty of amusement parks and a wide variety of other things to do. But there are a lot of factors riding in favour of the zoos. For one, the entrance tickets cost very less so it is perfect for an outing by a family or groups of friends. Of course, the more affluent sections of the society have other entertainment options but for the rest, a zoo is a wholesome experience. I do not think they are decreasing in popularity at all,” he says.
Dutt may well be right when it comes to the Vandalur zoo. In 2010, the zoo welcomed nearly 18 lakh visitors. And officials say the zoo sees an annual increase of at least 15 per cent in its footfall. How? The authority brought in major changes to attract more visitors – they ensured availability of drinking water around the park, battery-operated vehicles to carry people to and fro and resting areas – all within an affordable cost of Rs 20.
So why is it that other zoos in India have not incorporated the same changes? “It all depends on how well they manage their finances. The Central Zoo Authority in India has proposed a ‘Zoo Authority Model’ for every state. This would aid them in finance management,” Dutt says.
So will zoos in India able to match up to the standards of those abroad? “We must bear in mind that zoos in countries like the United States (US) prominently project their sales in the form of souvenirs etc. Most of them also get corporate sponsorship or are privately managed. But this will take time in India. We are headed in that direction, one step at a time,” he says assuringly.
But money is not the only issue. There is another problem that plagues the Indian system – lack of qualified workforce. “Our employs are not necessarily trained to work with animals,” Dutt says.
“But we have programmes that enable the public to pitch in. Schools can organise day excursions to the zoo and the students can even help take care of the animals. Some zoos have a provision for people to adopt an animal, thereby becoming actively involved,” he says. So, what are you waiting for? Go and get close and personal with some of the most awe-inspiring species in the world.
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