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Birsa zoo makes summer splash

The maverick monsoon may be a week away, but it is already shower time at Birsa Munda Biological Park.

The zoo, sprawling over 187 hectares in Ormanjhi — some 25km from capital Ranchi — and home to more than 1,000 animals and birds of five dozen different species, is making generous use of water to help its wild denizens stay cool despite the Celsius surge.

Itni garmi badh gayi hai… humlog subha, dophar aur shaam ko pani dete hain inhe thanda rakhne ke liye (The sun is a scorcher… we spray water on enclosures every morning, afternoon and evening),” said zoo employee Jageshwar Mahto who, armed with a hose pipe, was seen playing summer Samaritan for the Strawberry Finch on a blistering Thursday.

He added that the idea was to keep the three large cages housing the 250-odd little red birds soaked throughout the scorching day. “Water is sprayed both on the thatched roofs and the gunny bags that cover the side grilles.”

At the big cat enclosure, tiger duo Durga and Sugriv were found in the comfort care of zoo employee Polha Nayak. “They are being bathed four times a day,” he said, adding that the diet of these carnivores were also under strict scrutiny. “Durga and Sugriv love beef and we are feeding them the same, albeit in moderation. Too much meat can make body temperatures rise, which will be detrimental to their health. So, the big cats are frugal eaters in summer and their nutrition intake is supplemented by multivitamins once a day.”

Sadhu Oraon is Birsa zoo’s leopard man who single-handedly manages spotted quintet Dharmendra, Sita, Geeta, Hari and Kajal. “Subah yeh log half-litre dudh peete hain (Each of the leopards drink half a litre milk every morning),” said Oraon. A small ice pond and an air cooler pamper them in the heat. “Meat has been restricted to a kilo instead of the normal 3kg, while glucose water is must-have every day,” he added.

Zoo vet Ajay Kumar said the tigers and bears also have their ice water ponds and almost every animal — herbivore or carnivore — were being fed water-containing fruits such as watermelon and cucumbers. “We are taking care to give the animals a diet as active as possible because the sun tends to sap all their energy. I have categorically directed zoo staff to liberally use water to keep body temperatures normal,” he stressed, adding that every enclosure was connected with water tanks to ensure uninterrupted supply.

Summer showers can be both rejuvenating and fun, particularly if they involve jumbo troika Samrat, Lakhi and Ramu. The three elephants entertained zoo visitors on Thursday with their chase-and-spray game. Mahendra Singh, one of their handlers, said the gentle giants splurged as much as 1,000 litres every day. “They also love to gorge on 10kg of cucumber and 10kg of watermelon each!”