“Shiva was the pride of this zoo and a magnificent animal. No matter what animal or rhino they bring in his place, he can never be replaced,” said a sobbing Ravindra Nivate, the zookeeper who looked after Shiva, the rhinoceros, for the last 27 years.
After keeping the zoo authorities on tenterhooks for five days, Shiva finally entered the transit cage yesterday, paving the way for his departure to National Zoological Park in Delhi.
34-year-old Shiva, who for the past 28 years has lived at the Veermata Jijabai Bhonsle Udyan, Byculla, in solitary confinement, entered his transportation cage at 11 am, bringing much-relief to the zoo authorities, barring two zookeepers. A forklift then loaded the cage, which was stacked with fruits for the long journey, onto a waiting tempo, which will take him by road to the capital.
From Tuesday onwards, Shiva had refused to nibble at the food placed in the transit cage after probably getting a whiff of the zoo authorities’ shifting plans who in their effort to find him a suitable mate, turned matchmakers and after scouting zoos across the country, singled out prospective partners residing in New Delhi.
Shiva’s relocation, which according to zoo authorities is a cause for celebration since he is to be paired with two female rhinos in Delhi, has however not gone down well with Nivate and Ramesh Pawar, the two men who have been taking care of Shiva for the past 27 years. Although, they are glad that Shiva would be paired with a female companion, the two zookeepers were saddened after he left the premises.
Authorities hired Nivate and Ramesh Pawar in 1986 as cleaners for Shiva’s enclosure -- a year after Shiva was brought to the zoo. At first their job was simply to wash him and feed him, but as time passed the two men and Shiva formed a special bond.
Anil Anjankar, director of Byculla Zoo, said, “If anyone were to call out to Shiva or make any noises to draw his attention, he would never look. But, if Nivate or Pawar called out his name, he would immediately glance at them and walk towards them.”
“Even when we were outside the enclosure, had we to call him, he would come close and stand in front of us. It is upsetting to see him leave, considering we raised him,” said an emotional Nivate.
As Shiva’s cage was being loaded into the pick-up truck, the duo broke into tears and was inconsolable for a few minutes. They, however, continued to help other zoo workers to make sure his cage was secured properly on to the tempo.
Although upset that Shiva was leaving the zoo after over two decades, Pawar who was in tears was albeit happy that Shiva was going to find a mate. “If Shiva’s partner gives birth to an offspring, we hope that the baby rhino is sent here. We would consider ourselves lucky to raise Shiva’s child.”