Vandalur zoo gets ready to celebrate
  August 16, 2010 04.45 PM

Arignar Anna Zoological Park, popularly known as Vandaloor Zoo, was thrown open to the public 25 years ago. He is one of the few old-timers, who actually helped set it up.

Dr. Manimozhi, the Zoo biologist said that Vandalur zoo started out as a menagerie in 1854. "Dr. Edward Belford, of Madras Museum, got some rescued panther cubs and kept them near the museum. It attracted large crowds, so he thought of starting a Zoo."

In 1855, Dr. Belford started the Madras zoo on the museum premises, and it was later transferred to the Madras Corporation. It was shifted to People's Park, near Central station in 1861 as it was growing.

"Soon it became necessary to relocate the zoo to a larger area. At People's Park, there was a lot of air and noise pollution and there was not enough space for the animals. Since many people lived in the area, it also posed a health hazard to animals.

The Madras zoo was shifted to Vandalur Reserve Forest in 1976. People from surrounding villages were roped in to afforest the area. Right from the zoo Director to the ground staff, everyone is thrilled to mark the zoo's Silver Jubilee. Dr. KSSVP Reddy, Zoo Director, said that, "We plan to promote the idea of animal adoption and rope in celebrities. The idea is to create awareness and a love for animals among people".

Today, the zoo draws over 16 lakh visitors a year, but old staffers like Palani and Srinivasan still remember the early days. "We worked in the scorching sun, making enclosures, putting up signs, creating trails for different species and eco-friendly rest sheds", says Manimozhi, who has been on the staff since 1988. They also developed a record-keeping system with details of the animals brought to the zoo.

Today, the 602-hectare zoo is one of the largest in south-east Asia, with 146 species and 1,376 animals and about 50 keepers tend to them. "When we started work, we were hired to clear bushes and work on the land", says Chelliah, who eats lunch behind the enclosure for white tigers. Over time and with some training, they began taking care of the animals too. "I had never been with wild animals, but felt no fear", he says.

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