Having bought myself a ticket (Rs 10 for Indians, Rs 50 for foreigners. The Rs 50 ticket includes a map of the zoo), I entered through the turnstile—and immediately started having misgivings. The broad path leading through the zoo was lined by plastic garbage bins shaped like cartoon animals: rhinos, chimps, and so on, dressed in T-shirts, shorts and caps, and looking completely cheesy.
The National Zoological Park (NZP) spreads across 240 acres along the southern periphery of the Purana Qila. The zoo was founded in 1957 and houses approximately 1700 specimens of about 185 species. Over the past few years, the NZP’s been at work. They’ve moved, for instance, from barred cages to moated enclosures for some species. Electrically-operated vehicles have been introduced, and breeding groups of animals such as white tigers and brow-antlered deer have been established.
Despite that, I was disappointed. Some of the animals seemed in a pitiable condition. The sambhar looked downright mangy, and the Asian elephants, standing in narrow, tent-like concrete enclosures, were (and rightly so) pretty restless. What irked me the most were the living conditions of many species. The hippos had a moat full of opaque, smelly water; the small cats—palm civets, leopard cats, etc—lived in dingy enclosures with a profusion of concrete bits and pieces; and the langurs were cooped up in a boring looking cage that must have driven them batty. I followed the large yellow arrows painted on the road (these lead you on a two-hour circuit of the zoo’s main attractions). Sure enough, within the next couple of hours I’d seen some big names from the animal world, hippos, the great one-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic lions, the Royal Bengal tiger (and white tigers), leopards, jaguars, sloth bears, blackbuck, chinkara gazelle, barking deer, and Asian elephants included.
My favourite area was the big birds section. It was dominated by the extremely noisy blue and yellow macaws, around twenty flamboyant birds that could be heard at the other end of the zoo! This area also had some exquisite pheasants: the golden, green, silver, ringed, and Kaleej pheasants were the loveliest.
Other than the birds, the big draw for me was the jaguar enclosure. This also happens to be an NZP success story: one of the jaguars, an exuberant female called Soni (`beauty’), was hand-reared because her mother had cannibalistic tendencies. Soni obviously loves being photographed, and as soon as she saw me approaching with my camera, came bounding up to the edge of her enclosure to strike a pose for me. And this wasn’t a fluke—she did it again and again!
But yes, in spite of Soni and the macaws, I don’t know if I’d want to visit the NZP in a hurry.
New Delhi, India
November 12, 2008
From journal Delhi: Family Fun