The state government has decided against shifting the zoo from Alipore to Bhagabanpur, near Sonarpur, to relieve visitors from the hassle of travelling so far.
Though the state authorities claim to be concerned about visitors’ convenience, four major projects undertaken at the zoo in 2010 for comfort of visitors and inmates and give the zoo a facelift have not yet been completed. The price of entry tickets to the zoo, however, has been doubled to Rs 20 citing “better facilities”.
In reality, the 45-acre campus resembles a vast construction zone in places, with building materials dumped haphazardly and unfinished iron and glass structures here and there.
An electronic entry plaza, two aviaries, a glass-panelled tiger enclosure and a renovated reptile house were to replace the old structures by November last year as part of the facelift plans. None of these projects has been completed though the deadline has been overshot by eight months.
Sources at the zoo said the delay has been caused by a lack of administrative authority (current director Rohit Tiwari is on leave for over three months and the interim director, Niraj Singhal, is allegedly unwilling to allocate funds) but the authorities claim most of the projects would be completed by end-October.
Metro spent a day at the zoo to take stock.
The 2,000sq-ft glass enclosure for tigers, being built at an estimated cost of Rs 2 crore, is in a shambles, hidden behind ugly sheets of asbestos.
Some of the bullet-proof glass, imported from Belgium at a cost of Rs 56 crore, has already been damaged. As a result, visitors are forced to see the big cats the old way, from in front of iron cages.
“My daughter was very excited when she heard about the new project that would allow visitors to see the tigers in a naturalistic setting, beside a waterfall,” said Sohini Basu Roy, a resident of Jadavpur. “That was when she was in Class X. Now, she has completed school and moved to Bangalore but the project is not yet complete.”
Two large aviaries were supposed to be built surrounding two water bodies — one near the elephant enclosure and the other near the rhino house, at a cost of Rs 50 lakh. Though 80 per cent of the work was completed by August last year, nothing much has been done since. The 80ft-high iron structure is gathering rust and the water inside has become dirty and turned into an eyesore.
“The aviary was an excellent concept, which would have given birds the space to fly around and also allowed visitors to spot many of them at the same place. But going by the way the work is proceeding, the future of the aviary looks dim,” said Anindya Sheel, a bird watcher and a frequent visitor to the zoo.
Eighteen turnstiles have been installed at a cost of Rs 1.5 crore to ensure speedy entry into the zoo but there is no word yet on when they will start functioning.
“The project is almost complete and once we are done with the painting and a bit of construction work along the compound wall, we can open the entry plaza. However, there has been no clear instruction yet about when to start the project,” said a zoo official.
The reptile house was set for a makeover at a cost of Rs 50 lakh. But since it was closed down for renovation in April 2010 and the inmates packed into makeshift cages and cardboard boxes, away from public view, the place looks like a haunted house with shrubs and bushes all over.
Sources said the enclosure was near completion but several glass panels, which were stored in warehouses for over a year, had been damaged. Since then, no money has been allocated to buy new glass panels. A “closed for renovation” signboard hangs outside.
“The reptile house was one of the prime attractions at the zoo. With all the inmates away of public view, the urge to visit the zoo is gone,” said Goutam Mohanty, a visitor.
Metro found only three labourers lounging around in the partially reconstructed building.
Until the new facilities are up and running, the zoo is a rather poor home for the animals. The living conditions violate the 2009 notification by the Central Zoo Authority to ensure proper upkeep of animals.
The zoo has only 18 hectares for 1,300 animals of 130 species. The space for each inmate — 0.013 hectare — is at least 10 times less than the norm.
For large mammals, the zoo authority prescribes around 1,000sq m for a pair of tigers and lions and 2,000sq m for a pair of rhinos and hippos. Going by the benchmark, the 22 animals of four species at the Alipore zoo should have around 14,000sq m of enclosure space. The actual space is a lot less.
“Each animal enclosure shall have appropriate shelters, perches, withdrawal areas, pools, drinking water points and such other facilities, which can provide them a chance to display a wide range of their natural behaviour as well as protect them from extremes of climate,” stated the ministry notification.
“We expect the new entrance, aviary and tigers’ enclosure to be completed within three months while the other work would take a bit longer,” said T.V.N. Rao, the member-secretary of the state zoo authority.