Jijamata Udyaan in Byculla, the city’s sad excuse for a zoo, is home to a menagerie of thirsty, weary-looking beasts who are languishing in dusty, unclean enclosures that reek of neglect. The vessels in the enclosures, which officials claim contain ‘fresh’ water (that is only replenished once a week), do little to quench the thirst of these parched, unhappy denizens of the zoo.
Kamal Sayyed looked as woebegone as the deer he was looking at, as he said, “The Byculla zoo looks like a drought-stricken area. Most of the enclosures for animals like deer, crocodiles, monkeys, and pelicans do not have water. The water provided to the few lucky species is not clean enough to drink. It has turned green in some parts, and a dark muddy brown in other areas. The trees, few in number, are not watered well. It seems that the authorities are not concerned about the condition of the animals and the zoo. This is sure to have a negative impact on the health of the animals.”
Construction work in some stretches only adds to the air of squalor and gloom that pervades the zoo. Echoing Sayeed’s dark observations, another visitor, introducing himself as Ajay Nath Jogi, said, “The monkeys look like they are ill almost half-dead. Do we come here to watch animals that are kept in such a deplorable condition?” The beleaguered, unhappy animals fit right into the larger picture of neglect and dereliction that the zoo premises present.
The pathways leading from one enclosure to another are broken and cry out for repairs, and the signboards that are meant to lead visitors to animals of their choice are broken or their fonts obscured and faded by age. Parents could be seen clucking with disappointment, having promised their children that they would catch rare glimpses of beasts and birds that had only seen in their picture books so far.
Sharad Dhuri, who had hauled his children to the zoo on a hot summer day with the hope that they would get to meet their favourite animals in flesh, said, “There are no animals that I can show my kids. The zoo is filled with the usual birds, monkeys, deer and elephants. What is so special about them? Why open a zoo then? I do not know in which direction to walk, as there are no proper signboards. We feel lost.”
Sunish Subramanian, member of the NGO Plants and Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), said, “It is the same every year. The BMC officials do nothing about the condition of the animals, no matter how much you plead with them. Due to water shortage and the soaring temperatures, the animals are susceptible to dehydration and viral infection. So many of them die from this. During summer months, the animals should be provided fresh water at least twice a day, with special care being taken to ensure that the water is clean. We need to nurture them just like we nurture our own children.”
Asked about the pitiable condition of the beasts, Dr Sanjay Tripathi, veterinary doctor from Byculla zoo, replied, “Every Wednesday, we clean the enclosures and supply fresh water to the animals. Most of the times the water is kept inside in the feed house and therefore it is not visible to the general public. The enclosures are empty as there is a scarcity of animals. The infrastructure is old. Our master plan to improve the zoo has been approved; we will very soon begin work to refurbish the entire area.”