May 12, 2012

National Zoological Park, New Delhi

Since its establishment in 1959, the National Zoological Park has become a premier institution, unique in that it tries to provide a habitat as close to natural as possible to the over two thousand species of animals and birds that call it home besides also housing hundreds of plant species. In addition to functioning as an educational-recreational zone, the zoo is also involved in several research study projects, breeding programs for endangered species and the organization of national and international biodiversity and zoo regulation campaigns and seminars. Amongst the most sincere of all its initiatives is the planting of sign boards and information panels throughout its 176-acre compound to educate the visitors about the organism they are viewing as well as provide knowledge about the causes for the decline of the said organism’s natural habitat and the need to maintain ecological balance for conservation of species and natural resources. Established in 1959, the zoo, located idyllically in the shade of the massive fortress christened as Dinpanah (“Asylum of the faithful”, now referred to as Old Fort, refer - Pixelated Memories - Old Fort), is one of the best picnic spots in the city, ideal for a family outing, especially when the weather is right. The fortress and its numerous bastions and curtain walls can be seen from various points along the visitor routes and make for interesting backgrounds while clicking the flora and fauna, more so since there are a number of spots where the bastions project out of absolute wilderness and amaze the visitors. Along one of its sides, the zoo complex is flanked by a railway track and a passenger in the passing train can spot several animal enclosures – many a times the passing trains scare the deer roaming quietly (would have liked to use the word “freely”, but it would have been an oxymoron when referring to their enclosures) who then swiftly dash away to another glade, away from the prying eyes of the visitors. 

The docile Hog Deer (Axis porcinus)

Conceived in 1952 by the Indian Board for Wildlife, the zoo was planned according to inputs from M.E.F. Bowring Welsh (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Carl Hagenbeck (owner of the famed Hamburg Zoological Park, West Germany) and executed by N.D. Bachkheti (of Indian Forest Service) at its present location with funds from the Indian govt. and gifts of animal and plant species by several state govts.

Within the huge complex, one can take either of the two circuitous routes (marked with color arrows on the ground all along the route) that border the numerous enclosures and mini-complexes that some of the larger animals are provided with. Along the routes, the enclosures have been marked with helpful information panels detailing the organism’s characteristics – even the trees that flank the routes have been pinned with name tags (both local and scientific names) with larger metallic panels affixed to the ground nearby (though even I know that hammering nails in a tree trunk retards the growth, don’t the zoo authorities? The panels could have been affixed on the ground, right?). Signages and the placement of zoo maps (depicting directions, map position with reference to the zoo compound and the route to reach other enclosures) at regular intervals are definitely a positive step to assist the visitors and ensure coordinated movement. We decided to take the left route which led to the bigger animals like caimans, nilgais and tigers – despite spending an entire day in the complex, we left out several of the bigger animals as well as entire sections – so huge is the complex that a day seems less if covering the place in its entirety is the mission! The day didn’t really prove much fruitful for me at least – possibly because I don’t own a camera and it was quite difficult to click the animals that had huge enclosures to themselves and the freedom to retreat to far corners. I might have made do, but my cousins had decided to tag along and they (not being used to photography and sustained walking throughout the day) had to stop every few minutes at one or the other refreshment stalls to get ice creams or cold drinks. 

Much helpful - Every enclosure has at least one information panel; several have three

Because it was summer season and the scorching sun overhead was spreading its terribly hot fangs all over the city, most of the bigger/sensitive animals were either removed from their enclosures and kept in specially air-conditioned and protected rooms to shield them from the dry, sultry winds or had made their way to their dugouts and dark corners – nonetheless, we were able to see several of them – lions, tigers, monkeys, alligators, leopards, panthers, jackals, besides migratory birds of various species. But most of all, the zoo has an abundance of deer – roaming about in their large, heavily-wooded compounds, separated from visitors by wire-mesh boundaries, most of these creatures have become tame – among those that I remember are goral, black bucks, chinkaras, sambhars, Hog deer, nilgai and sika – the Hog deer have become domesticated enough to approach us and feed on leaves straight from our palms! I must admit they posed rather handsomely for the cameras.

The zoo officials do their best to provide the animals comfortable environment in the extreme seasons that Delhi experiences – when the mercury soars, fans and desert coolers are installed in the enclosures with the more sensitive animals being removed from the public enclosures  and placed in shaded rooms to avoid their being irritated by visitors and heat, the fluid intake of the animals is increased and they are supplied with juices (watermelon, wood-apple) and rehydration salts while at the same time monitoring the food and meat intake, special grass covers and nets are also thrown over the enclosures, especially the ones housing the birds; in winters, heaters are employed in the enclosures and blankets are thrown into the enclosures to keep the animals warm and cozy, jute covers are used to cover the bird enclosures. 

Ironically, discolored and dirty - Sambhar Deer (Cervus unicolor)

Peacocks roam freely throughout the compound, however they are quick and it’s difficult clicking them – their counterparts however around the nearby green Sunder nursery-Batashewala complex are relatively calm and can be photographed if one is cautious enough and doesn't make much noise. Migratory birds also flock here in abundance, especially around a huge marsh that was introduced with the purpose of providing these bids with a nesting and feeding site – there’s a Mughal-era canopy (“barakhamba”, twelve-pillared dome) too next to the marsh, possibly a tomb once, today people sit in its shade and observe the birds.

Next we headed to the giraffe and elephant enclosures – the elephants have a large dugout fitted with a deep pool to themselves – the dugout slopes gently such that from one side it appears the elephants are below visitor’s level but on the other side they come level and then one truly appreciates their massiveness – I was on the other side when the three elephants, who were soaking in the pool, eloped towards suddenly, giving a splendid show to the impressed audience. Two of the elephants began copulating then, much to the laughter and shriek of the people present – you have to see an elephant’s penis to believe the size of it – it’s literally like a thick pillar! 

In their own silent world - Giraffes (Giraffa camelopardalis)

As mentioned earlier, the bigger animals like lions, tigers, rhinoceros and bears have their own separate compounds with lush vegetation, small watering holes and a deep moat separating them from the onlookers. It being desperately hot, most of the animals preferred to dunk down into the shallower section of the water bodies or find some respite under the shade of the larger, shady trees, prompting the disappointed and insensitive visitors to create a ruckus, banging the enclosure walls and at times even projectile water bottles and similar stuff towards the animal – one wonders who is actually the beast in the picture?! The animals do not always oblige the visitors by reappearing; frustrated the unruly visitor moves on to the next enclosure but the entire scene does beget the question – are zoos really necessary? Breeding programs apart, isn’t the display of wild animals in constricted, often times unhygienic enclosures in controlled environments against their natural instincts and in all probability physically taxing and mentally stressing?

The zoo also boasts of a dark and damp underground “Reptile House” where pythons, boas, cobras, lizards & turtles are displayed in glass cages – the low-light condition, though suitable for these creatures, is prohibitive for photography and I had to give up after a few amateur attempts. 

The Humayun Darwaza of Old Fort looming above a portion of the zoo complex (Notice the info panel (foreground right) detailing the aspects of the fortress)

Among the facilities that the zoo provides efficiently are wheelchair access and open-roof mobile van service to tour the large complex – personally, I prefer to walk and would suggest against availing the van as one tends to miss out on some of the less promoted but nonetheless beautiful and momentary scenes – magnificent peacocks strutting over trees and enclosures, fierce hornets building their nest in the rotten and crumbling wood work of a tall watchtower, lush vegetation and moss overtaking some of the secluded corners of the compound, colorful, multi-varietal mushrooms rearing their heads on dead and rotting logs here and there, big red ants swarming in and out of their deep burrows – it is these smaller events, individual but interconnected, that make one feel as if cradled in the heart of nature, close to both life and spirit that makes one experience a oneness with these tiny souls. To escape the freezing cold of their original countries, migratory birds like pintails, shovelers, teals and storks too come from as far as Europe and Russia and make the zoo their second home during the winter months (mid-Oct-March).

Food articles and drinks (except for water bottles and infant milk) are not allowed within the zoo premises and the same can only be bought at a small refreshment kiosk that stands in the middle of a glade close to a tall Kos Minar (for details about the communication-espionage system that the Kos Minars facilitated as mile markers, refer – Pixelated Memories - Kos Minar, Faridabad). I did photograph the tapering tower, one of the tallest I’ve seen in Delhi-NCR, perhaps because it faces no danger of being buried under asphalt during laying of roads or of being brought down under pressure from urbanization-commercialization lobbies, but the photos didn’t come out so good and were mostly burnt out – I’ll perhaps visit the place sometime again with a camera and do a separate post about the tower and the Mughal tomb and link them back to this and the larger post about Kos Minars. Within the zoo there's also a Mughal-era serai (inn) referred to as Azimbagh Serai, the largest such structure amongst the entire network that existed in Delhi along the historic mega-highway Grand Trunk Road – am doubtful if visitors are allowed access to it since it falls within the precincts of the complex’s residential quarters, will try to gain permission the next time I visit. The serai will soon be given a facelift in a monumental restoration-conservation project being undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) as part of the larger Humayun’s Tomb Complex – Sunder Nursery – Nizamuddin Basti revival initiative. Situated close to the administrative block is the zoo complex's library stocking books and research material about the life forms and natural systems. 

Kos Minar - A medieval "mile marker" (Photo courtesy -

Though it has been designated as the model zoological park for the country, the zoo does suffer from several organizational and animal care issues – newspaper reports have in the past pointed to the lack of hygiene in the enclosures and the murkiness of the water bodies where the animals drink as well as find shelter during the heat; deaths too have been reported with the causes varying from stress, animal-animal conflict, lack of sanitation and most recently the flow of sewage water in the open grounds; I felt some of the animals like the sambar deer and blackbucks were living in over congested spaces. However, the zoo does deserve credit for its successful breeding and conservation programs for rhinos, swamp deer, Asiatic lions and most notably, the Manipuri brow-antlered deer which also feature in the zoo’s logo.

Highly endangered, the brow-antlered deer were gifted by the state of Manipur to the zoo in 1962 and since then the zoo has shown remarkable progress in breeding and nourishing these rare animals and even distributed many to Kanpur, Ahmedabad, Junagadh, Hyderbad, Lucknow and Mysore zoos. 

Manipuri brow-antlered deer on the zoo's logo (Photo courtesy -

One of the most horrifying and inescapable facets of a visit to zoo and life in India in general is the insensitive nature of the visitors and a complete lack of basic manners and education – littering is common despite there being a ban on importing food substances and cartons/packs/polythenes within the zoo complex as well as placement of dustbins throughout the compound; harassing the animals when they are sleeping or in their cave/dugout; shouting (usually at animals but not restricted to the same) is another common observation. Given that the zoo sees a footfall of 5000-6000 visitors on normal days and 12000-13000 on weekends and holidays, even a fraction of them acting as miscreants becomes a significant number that all the stakeholders including the zoo guards, other visitors and most importantly, the animals have to cope with. 

Calm but highly dangerous - Spectacled Caiman (Caiman crocodilus)

By the time we came out of the zoo complex it was already evening; the numerous shops at the zoo periphery that dealt in stuffed toys, cheap picture books (suitable for kids only) and costly coffee-table books had begun their business; so had the vendors on foot or cycle selling thin booklets about animal/plant/insect lives, balloons, key rings and animal-shaped toys. For the sake of posterity I too bought a thin booklet even though it was marked “Ages 10-15”. Definitely an experience worth reminiscing about, now I know why a lot of old people state that visiting zoological parks and botanical gardens with their grand/kids bring back memories of their own childhoods. I shall visit again, have to document the kos minar and the serai too – but then it would be with a camera and hopefully in winters when the animals aren’t removed from their enclosures to protect them from the summer sun. Till then.. 

One of the large maps that are placed strategically along the pathways throughout the complex 

Nearest Bus stop: Purana Qila (Old Fort)
Nearest Metro Station: Central Secretariat
Nearest Railway Station: Hazrat Nizamuddin
How to reach: The zoo is situated right next to Old Fort (refer link - Pixelated Memories - Old Fort). The bus stop is immediately outside the larger fortress-zoo complex while one has to avail the facilities of an auto if deboarding at metro/train station (will cost around Rs 40 either case).
Open: All days, except Friday
Timings: April 01-Oct 15: 9am-4.30pm; Oct 16-March 31: 9.30am-4pm
Entrance Fee: Indians: Rs 40 (adults) and Rs 20 (children upto 5yrs of age and senior citizens); Foreigners: Rs 200 (adults) and Rs 100 (children upto 5yrs of age)
For concessions related to school visits, refer page - - Timing and Tariff
Photography charges: Rs 100; Video charges: Rs 1000 (For other charges refer page - - Timing and Tariff)
Facilities available: wheelchair (free), mobile van, luggage room, ATM facility
Not permitted within: Eatables (except milk and infant food), tobacco and alcoholic products, inflammable materials and matchsticks, polythenes/cartons/tetrapacks, firearms and sharp objects (scissors/knives), musical/sound instruments, bags (except purses, laptop/camera bags)
Relevant links - 

Suggested reading - 
  1. - Mughal-era serai to be conserved
  2. - Article "Coolers, sprinklers help Delhi Zoo animals beat the summer heat" (dated May 11, 2014) by Shradha Chettri and Rupesh Dutta
  3. - Article "Saving the last white tiger cub" (dated Jan 29, 2014) by Sunanda Ranjan
  4. - Article "Something to roar about: Delhi zoo will get a facelift" (dated April 21, 2014) by Sweta Goswami
  5. - Article "Delhi zoo in crying need of attention" (dated May 27, 2014) by Neha Das
  6. - Article "ASI-protected monument comes in way of zoo expansion" (dated Feb 24, 2013) by Nivedita Khandekar
  7. - Article "Zoos: India's wildlife ghettos" (dated Feb 02, 2013) by Chetan Chauhan
  8. National Zoological Park, Delhi official website
  9. - Article "Delhi Zoo hikes charges" (dated Oct 02, 2010)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! you are good with descriptions... shud post links to your blog on different travel sites...