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Birsa zoo big cats beat chill with piping hot soup

- Beef broth packed with vitamins is just what the vet ordered for lions, tigers, leopards and foxes

To slurp or not to slurp, that isn’t the question. All human commandments on having soup politely — proper spoons, serviettes, no slurps or spills — are tossed aside when lions and tigers rewrite the rules at Bhagwan Birsa Biological Park in Ormanjhi, 22km from Ranchi city limits.

From January 2 this year, the zoo is serving minced buffalo soup packed with liquid multivitamins, Vitamins A, D3, E and C as well as amino acid once a day to its carnivorous inmates to fight the biting cold.

Those who are getting this piping hot winter treat include the back-in-love big cats Sugreev and Durga and two lionesses, including Sundari who was adopted by Bollywood actor Priyanka Chopra in 2012. Others include four leopards, three leopard cats, nine jungle cats, 11 jackals and three foxes.

It means a soup table set for 34 — no laughing matter.

But being wildlife royalty, these carnivores have the privilege of slurping soup noisily in their enclosures at 10am.

“This is the first time that we’ve introduced soup for carnivores to maintain their body temperatures and it is working out well,” said zoo director P.K. Verma.

The director said that these protected species needed all the care possible in winter.

“It is not only human beings who are facing the wrath of dipping mercury, animals are feeling the chill too,” he added.

“We are calling it keema soup fortified with vitamins for extra warmth and energy. We’re feeding it to animals depending on their body type,” said zoo vet Ajay Kumar.

He went on to enumerate the benefits of the supplements.

“Vitamins A and D3 increase strength and vitality of animals. Vitamin E supplement with anti-oxidant properties decreases the risk of winter stroke. Vitamin C aids the immune system,” he added.

On the matter of preparing the soup, more of a broth really, no cordon bleu chef is needed. Nothing can be simpler to prepare than boiling minced buffalo in water. Other zoos in the state — especially Bokaro’s Jawaharlal Nehru animal habitat where a white tiger cub died in winter due to recurrent diarrhoea — may like to borrow the recipe.

Kumar further added that this soupy treat was apart from the regular intake of buffalo meat and chicken breast.

Normally every winter, zoo officials also put room heaters and paddy straw insulation for each enclosure of carnivorous animals. This is being done this year as well.

Herbivores, vet Kumar hastened to add, were not getting a raw deal.

“Herbivorous animals get multivitamin in powder form. They also get Vitamin C, Vitamin D3 and gooseberries that are mixed in their feed,” the vet said.

The zoo, spread over 104 hectares, has around 522 species of birds and animals, which makes their upkeep a full-time job.

But snakes are the only ones to give their caretakers some respite in winter. They have gone into hibernation and the snake house is closed.