Mumbai: Caretaker of Byculla zoo's lioness Jimmy devastated after her death

Caretaker of Byculla zoo’s lioness Jimmy is devastated after her death; the other zoo staff too miss the friendly animal

There is no way Yashwant Khandekar, the caretaker of Jimmy the lioness, who died at Byculla zoo on Monday, knows about British wildlife conservationist George Adamson and his wife Joy, or Elsa their lioness, whose story in the famous book Born Free still enthralls readers.

Jimmy was no Elsa, who was brought up by humans who loved her and set her free. Jimmy was born and died in a zoo. But she was as loved. And as George and Joy were devastated by Elsa’s death, so is Yashwant.

All the staff of Veermata Jijabai Bhonsle Udyan (Byculla zoo) are mourning for Jimmy, the only lioness there. But for Yashwant, the loss is unbearable. He did not leave her body after learning of her death, until it was taken for taxidermy.

Gurunaath Kahivale (left) and Yashwant Khandekar at Byculla zoo. Khandekar, Jimmy’s caretaker, said he was very attached to her
Gurunaath Kahivale (left) and Yashwant Khandekar at Byculla zoo. Khandekar, Jimmy’s caretaker, said he was very attached to her

“She was like my child. I took care of her for the past 16 years. We caretakers have even bottle fed her when she was a cub. I feel empty. It was my daily routine to clean and feed her,” said Yashwant (50), tearfully. Jimmy was born on March 28, 1998 in Byculla zoo. Though he has been working for the zoo for the past 29 years, Yashwant added, “I felt more emotionally attached to her than any other animal.

She was everyone’s favourite, from the gardener to the officials. Everybody used to visit her and ask about her health.” Recalling an incident, he said, “In 2012, when she was ill and unable to walk to the food, I fed her with my hands for 10 days.

In the past 16 years she never attacked any one. Jimmy was well till Sunday evening but suddenly she developed breathing issues.” “She was so friendly with zoo staff, that when we used to call her, she would come at once. I was involved in taking care of her for past two years.

We could not control our tears after hearing about her death ,” said Gurunaath Kahivale (38), a labourer who is part of the team taking care of Jimmy. Gurunaath added, “Everyone is feeling sad. She will remain in our memory always.”

Zoo veterinarian, Dr Sanjay Tripathi said, “Jimmy was dear to everyone. When we would call her she used to respond immediately. I was very attached to her since I treated her for past 12 years.”

Taxidermy will be done in 3 months
After her death Jimmy’s body was taken to Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP), Borivali on Monday for taxidermy. The skin is removed and after tanning and a chemical process, taxidermy will start.

Jimmy’s skin after removal for taxidermy
Jimmy’s skin after removal for taxidermy

Speaking to mid-day, Dr Santosh Gaikwad, professor of Bombay Veterinary College and wildlife taxidermist said, “After tanning we will start making the skeleton. The whole procedure would take at least three months. It will cost Rs 25,000 and the Byculla zoo will pay.”

Gaikwad added, “After taxidermy the structure will last around 80 to 90 years. It is to be kept in an airtight glass container so no moisture and air can enter.” Jimmy’s organs were burnt in Byculla Zoo hospital cemetery on Monday.

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