People crowd at Byculla Zoo to see the penguins on Sunday. Pic/Bipin Kokate
People crowd at Byculla Zoo to see the penguins on Sunday. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Penguins are known to move around in large numbers, shuffling their feet on the large icy tracts in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. It was a similar sight yesterday, when at least 25,000 Mumbaikars thronged the Byculla Zoo for a glimpse of the Humboldt Penguins. The main difference: it was not at all cute, unlike in the case of the aquatic birds. In fact, it was completely chaotic with the crowd in queues undisciplined, all (no) thanks to the civic body keeping public viewing of penguins free till month-end.

Byculla Zoo authorities were prepared for a large turnout yesterday - it was a weekend and because the stars of the moment (the Humboldt Penguins) have been drawing in the masses. But what they had to handle was beyond expectations - people queuing up outside well before its official opening time of 9.30 am and then continuing to line up under the scorching sun with little thought to lunch or shade.

A minor stampede occurred at Byculla Zoo on Sunday after the massive crowd gathered to see the penguins went berserk.
A minor stampede occurred at Byculla Zoo on Sunday after the massive crowd gathered to see the penguins went berserk.

Desperate times
There were two gates at the zoo, one the main gate and the other for directly entering the building housing the penguins. And the latter had queues longer than a kilometre, with visitors' enthusiasm bordering on desperation to see the flightless birds clearly on display.

According to zoo director Dr Sanjay Tripathi, a good 12,000 people visited in the first half itself, which ended at 3 pm.

The birds were then given a break for 30 minutes, when they were fed, checked on by the veterinary doctors, and the temperature inside their glass enclosure monitored along with other things.

When the gates were opened for the second time at 3.30 pm, all hell broke loose.

Unruly crowd
People went berserk, doing everything wrong, right from breaking the barricades and climbing the walls, to pushing and creating commotion. What was worse, there was even a minor stampede-like situation that arose, wherein women, children and senior citizens sustained injuries.

mid-day has a video of the stampede and the entire chaotic situation that occurred at the zoo yesterday.

The situation went from bad to worse with even the policemen being pushed and shoved around. Zoo authorities were forced to close the gates at 4 pm, two hours before the actual timing, but that just made the crowd abusive and violent.

Breaking loose
Security forces tried their best to calm the crowd; some good Samaritans started helping the personnel to control the crowd, but in vain. Authorities had to reopen the gates and allow visitors in till 6 pm.

As the day ended with nearly 25,000 visitors, the BMC decided to lay down some rules and asked people to maintain decorum and avoid unruly behaviour.

The zoo sees 4,000-5,000 visitors on a weekday and double the number on weekends.