As a child, I was always fascinated by the idea of visiting a zoo. In school we are taught that zoos are a place where we can learn about the environment and wildlife. So, caged animals placed in the middle of a concrete jungle are supposed to make people aware of exactly how important it is to save the environment. Well, the irony in this case is exceptional!
However, many would argue that it is not a bad idea to have zoos, as they allow city-dwellers, and children in particular, to understand the importance of nature conservation and saving animals that are on the verge of extinction. People who hold such a view should visit zoos. My first visit to Jijmata Udyaan, also known as Byculla Zoo, wasn’t educational at all. On the contrary, it filled me with disgust.
This zoo was in the news a few days ago for acquiring eight Humbodlt penguins, one of which lost its life due to the living conditions in the city. Sadly, when I walked out of the zoo after three hours, the definition of a zoo changed in my head. Let me put it straight; throw away all your books, screw Google, and correct your teachers the next time they call zoos educational. A zoo is an amusement park for humans to whistle at animals, throw stones at them, click photos and selfies for hours on end, make out, spit in the open, stream movies on the phone, and of course, litter, with animals in cages in the background for entertainment.
My first visit didn’t turn out the way I expected it to be. All I could see were depressed animals behind bars. It felt like Tihar Jail for creatures who have committed serious crimes and are now serving a life sentence by entertaining us humans for our “education”.
To have a gala time, all you need to do is buy a five-rupee ticket. Photography enthusiasts need to shell out just Rs 10 for a camera pass. The police officers at the security check were very strict and did not allow anybody to take eatables inside. The entrance looked grand because of the statue placed there and the row of palm trees planted along the path beyond the entrance. My first sighting at the zoo was a couple who was busy making their love public from behind the benches near the entrance.
I soon went to see the first animal on display, which was the Nilgai, the biggest antelope found in Asia. Nilgais live in areas where small bushes grow, but in this zoo, they were placed in an enclosure that was a grassy bed. This animal is known to be active during the day, but the Nilgais I saw were hidden inside a cage. There was a calf who seemed to be injured, and it was stuck in a slope unattended.
After the Nilgai enclosure, I was directed to the cage which was surrounded by the largest number of people — the monkey enclosure. Monkeys are known to be enthusiastic and inquisitive, but the primates in this zoo were far from active. As someone who grew up in Uttar Pradesh, I have had a lot of close encounters with monkeys. I have had funny and disturbing experiences with monkeys, but I have never seen them depressed.
Thanks to this zoo, I saw sad and bored monkeys for the first time. The big cage seemed to be divided into two parts, with the injured and old monkeys sitting at one end and the young ones at the other. Most of these monkeys seemed sick and bored, and only one of them was climbing a toy ladder made of ropes and tyres. Monkeys should be climbing tall trees, but these poor creatures could only climb to the top of the cage and jump.How is this any different from a circus?
The state of the emus at the zoo was similar to that of the monkeys. They looked like helpless criminals.
Who Cares about Species?
The next exhibit was a herd of deer given a comparatively larger space., But all species of deer were placed in the same area. The Spotted deer, the famous Black Buck, the Barasingha and the Chinkara were all put in the same habitat. The herd of spotted deer was constantly being pecked at by a gang of crows, and they clearly looked irritated.
It’s a Zoo!
On the way from one section to another, I saw many couples looking for hideouts to make out in. Apart from this, people were also conducting photo shoots, and every girl and boy at the zoo thought of themselves as supermodels. I saw more than 20 DSLR cameras inside the zoo, but I was the only one using it to click pictures of the animals.
I had my share of awkward moments at the zoo. When I went looking for a toilet, I was told “Crocodile ke bagal mein hai!” As if this wasn’t weird enough, two boys walked up to me and asked me if my camera had an in-built Wi-Fi connection. “Bas ek baar Facebook par login karna hai!” they said.
The zoo is going through renovation, which is why several sections were not open for the public to visit. Despite maintenance work being carried out, the basic requirements for the functioning of a zoo were not in optimal condition. Some of the sign boards were either broken, dirty or provided the wrong directions. Thanks to this glitch, I couldn’t spot the hippopotamus. But maybe I was the only visitor who wanted to read the sign boards. Some of the people at the zoo mistook hyenas for lomdis (foxes) and threw stones at them.
The space dedicated to the crocodile did not have any water and the crocs were caged. This was appalling, because crocodiles need water to survive and they were deprived of it. The space crunch seems to be an issue throughout the zoo. Different species of birds were stacked together in tightly packed cages. The alligators have it the worst; they share space with Nilgais. This is surprising considering the amount of space that is available for the humans who visit the zoo: multiple parks, gardens all around, and a special playground for kids.
The Biggest Blunder
The most disappointing section of the zoo was a big cage that housed all the aquatic birds. It seemed more like a coach of a Virar fast local train. Pelicans, Saras cranes, Painted Storks and two more species of aquatic birds shared the same space.
The most disturbing sight was the image of two small white storks hanging outside the cage. It didn’t take much time for a few crows to enter this cage and steal food from the Painted Storks. They were able to break into the cage because of a massive hole on the top of the cage. Two birds were circling this hole, and they seemed to be contemplating escape.
There was not even a single picture where I could prevent the cage or barbed wires from entering the frame. The whole idea of a zoo doesn’t go down well with me, and the sight of these animals subjected to utter discomfort only confirmed my view. While I was leaving the zoo, I took notice of a message put up on a tree which read “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not for every man’s greed.” How fitting that this sign was put up inside a zoo.