Everyone has a most cherished childhood memory of visiting the zoo – watching in wonder as the huge elephants eat hay, being amazed by the tall giraffes, wondering how the weather is up there, avoiding the monkey’s spit as they swing inside their cages with mouths full of water, feeling the thrill and danger as the lion stares back at you from the other side of the enclosure. Who hasn’t at one time or another felt all these in their young life? Visitors will then definitely feel young again when visiting Chennai’s wonderful Vandalur Zoo.
Visiting zoological parks always bring out a sense of wonder, amazement, thrill and excitement in all of us. Not just for children, zoos have the ability to make adults feel like young boys and girls once more.
In Chennai, India, the Arignar Anna Zoological Park was named after Tamil Nadu’s former Chief Minister. More popularly known as Vandalur Zoo, the zoo sits on 603 hectares of suburban land situated in Vandalur. It is known today as the biggest zoological garden in India and considered as one of the largest across the globe. But Vandalur wasn’t always Vandalur.
In 1855, Dr. Edward Balfour donated his entire animal collection to the Government Central Museum in Madras, where he was the director. It was then that the first zoological park in India opened its gates as the Madras Zoo.
The zoo bred and acquired animals successfully, so much so that they had to move to Park Town, a much bigger location by 1861. But fifteen years later, in 1976, they had to move yet again to the Vandalur Reserve Forest, where away from the city, the air was cleaner and the area more spacious for the animals. Thus, the Vandalur Zoo was opened to the public.
With over 1,657 kinds of animals in its care, the public can expect to see a wide variety of animal species. Animals on exhibit include birds like the cormorants, dabchicks, darters, egrets, grey heron, night heron, glossy ibis, white ibis, moorhen, pelicans, great Pelicans, open-bill stork and painted stork.
Also counted among the animals are Indian bison, black bucks, Asian palm civets, crocodiles, barking deer, wild dogs, fish, Indian gaur, hippos, hyenas, jackals, leopards, Asiatic lions, twenty-two lion-tailed macaques, panthers, snakes, spotted deer, Nilgiri Langur – an old world monkey, ostriches, sangais, Malabar giant squirrels, and Asiatic wolves.
The most popular zoo attraction, however, remains to be the seven white tigers which have become nothing short of celebrities in Vandalur. People even anticipate the news of the birth of new cubs and await the naming of these with much excitement.
However, Vandalur Zoo is not just a simple zoological park out to display various animals for the public’s viewing pleasure. It upholds the objectives of educating the public about wildlife through various programs and propagating various critically endangered species to prevent extinction. Vandalur also has a rehabilitation center that takes care of confiscated, caught and abandoned wild animals.
It comes as no surprise then that Vandalur is visited by as much as 1.81 million people every year. With the wide range of animals for viewing coupled with the zoo’s passionate advocacy for endangered species, visitors know that at Vandalur Zoo, people sincerely care and seriously take action to protect and preserve India’s native fauna.