Our sutradhaars wonder when the historic Byculla Zoo aka Rani Baug will get a much-needed upgrade while neighbours Gujarat have opened a zoological safari in record time
"Edward was looking a bit upset this morning, when he came by for his monthly Sunday provisions to Crawford [Market]. He was hoping to meet you, but I informed him that you were tied up with domestic chores," Lady Flora updated her friend during their weekend walk down SoBo's favourite parts. She was referring to King Edward VII whose home was inside the Byculla Zoo aka Rani Baug. This time, they decided to head further south, towards Colaba's quieter bylanes, because unlocking of the city meant more crowds flocked to their usual hangouts.
"Did he say why he was upset? I hope it had nothing to do with the fact that he was missing the buzz of visitors at the zoo," Sir PM asked. "It's about a more serious issue, and a relevant one," his friend revealed, "It had to do with this recent news that he caught wind of. All the way from Gujarat, actually…" Before she could proceed, Sir PM interrupted, "From…from Gujarat, you say? Did something happen in Navsari?" Lady Flora hated when he did that; "Pheroze, will you let me finish? Like I was saying, Edward heard that a brand new zoological safari had opened in Kevadia, spread across nearly 400 acres. They even have an airplane service to reach this place. And guess what, Pheroze? The place is supposed to house over 100 species of animals and birds, including wallaby, llama and alpaca, as well as wildebeest and impala, world-class aviaries; they even have a petting zoo, Edward revealed. Of course, the Royal Bengal Tiger and other species from India will also be seen here."
Sir PM was stunned with what he had just heard, "All these exotic animals from Australia and South America! My goodness! That must have taken some long-term planning." Lady Flora continued with her reportage, "What upset Edward, however, was what's happening in his own backyard. See, he is deeply connected with the flora and fauna at Rani Baug. After all, it's like his family. He's seen all of it since the botanical gardens opened, back in 1862. He maintains that the zoo and its infrastructure need more than a facelift, while the gardens need to be preserved because it's a green lung. I agree with him fully. You recall that last visit we made, Pheroze?" They both reminisced how the place held so much scope for improvement amidst natural environs in the heart of the island city. Despite the aviary that had received a superb upgrade, and the penguin enclosure continuing to be a hit among visitors, both believed that there was a definite urgency to give a leg-up to the city's historic zoo and gardens.
"Even if I were to play devil's advocate, and say that opening new green spaces is a good sign in India, I still feel our animals in Rani Baug have every reason to feel shortchanged. I mean, all they are asking for is some more funding and expertise so they are insured for a longer, happier existence inside this very important city landmark," explained Sir PM, now wearing his legal hat with aplomb. "We must remember that this space has, for over a century, given so much joy to Bombay's citizens. Back in 1890, the original gardens of 50 acres were extended by 15 acres to accommodate the zoo. If we can't treat them with dignity, the zoo should be shut down," he reasoned. Lady Flora thought so, too, "It's better to not have a zoo, than a poorly-maintained one." She recalled how it was the talk of the town when she arrived in Bombay; the definite must-see attraction for citizens to make the trip to Byculla, then a far-off location. Both felt that the animals and birds deserved better, in one of India's oldest zoological gardens.
"And I don't get the fuss about petting zoos. If I need to pet a Persian cat or ride a pony, all I need to do is head to my cousin Noshir's farm home in Udvada. They have three such exquisite felines and two Shetland ponies," he chuckled, making Lady Flora break into a hearty laugh, as they headed back to their respective homes, hoping that Edward and his friends at the zoo would get that much-needed upgrade in the near future.
mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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