Mumbai may soon get its first petting zoo

Many animal lovers in Mumbai are not able to keep pets at home because of the massive space crunch in the city. But if all goes according to the plan, Mumbai may soon get its first petting zoo or a children’s zoo where domestic animals will be kept for children to feed and play with.

The petting zoo is being planned inside Mahalaxmi Race Course on two-three acres of available land. Pic/Satyajit Desai

The Royal Western India Turf Club has come up with this novel idea, which is hugely popular abroad and has known to help children with learning disabilities and autism. Khushroo Dhunjibhoy, chairman of the club said that Mumbai suffered from scarcity of space and that any available open space should be put to good use. The petting zoo is being planned inside Mahalaxmi Race Course on the two to three acres of available land.

Dhunjibhoy said, “People think that only the elite come here, which is not true. It is open to everyone. Hence, as a gesture on our part to be open to the public, we are coming up with a few things like amphitheatre (not a permanent structure but an open space where the artist can put up a temporary structure and perform), petting zoo, etc.”

The petting zoo can also act as a shelter for domestic animals and a closed shed will ensure that the animals are guarded during rainy season. According to initial estimates, the cost of the total project could go up to Rs 2 crore. The club members will approach the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for all the necessary permissions.

Domestic animals such as dogs, sheep, horses, goats, pigs and some birds will be housed in this zoo. A few suggestions put forward by the members of the club are: a minimal entry fee of Rs 5 may be levied and provisions will be made for a veterinarian to be in the zoo to keep a check on the animals.

“No exotic or restricted animals will be brought to this zoo. The designs are ready but have not been approved by the committee members, which will happen on September 18. Once the BMC gives us necessary permissions, we will start work by year-end,” Dhunjibhoy said.

The committee also plans to invite ideas from the general public and will put up a website for people to write their suggestions on. The racecourse is also open for school children to hold their matches.

Swati Popat, director of Poddar Jumbo Kids pre-schools, said, “Such petting zoos are often seen abroad and are very helpful for autistic children. In Malaysia, there is one such zoo where elephants are used in therapy for autistic children, which helps them develop their emotional skills.”

Kate Currawalla, president of Maharashtra Dyslexia Association said, “Children who have communication disorders can connect with animals easily. They never get a chance to touch, feel, feed or see domestic animals closely in day-to-day life. So I am sure this zoo will bring a lot of good experiences for children.”

Did you know?
The Thai Elephant Therapy Project (TETP) is believed to be the first and only programme in the world to use domestic elephants in therapy sessions. The gentle giants work with autistic children, helping them develop their social interaction and emotional skills. The programme is an initiative of Chiang Mai University and the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre.

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