Tuesday 4 April 2017

The Penguins and the Zoo

Sometime last year Penguins arrived in Amchi Mumbai. Their coming had been controversial from the day the city wished to have some. Was it necessary? Was the contractor competent to construct their enclosure? Do we have the funds to support them? I don't know but since they were here, they had to be viewed.

The Mumbai Zoo or "Rani chi Baug" acquired 8 Humboldt Penguins. One unfortunately died leaving 7. Humboldt Penguins are natives of coastal Chile and Peru and named after the cold water current they swim in and this city's weather is nowhere close to cold. Anyway an opportunity of a mid week Tuesday holiday resulted in a visit to the Zoo along with the Junior and one of the Seniors. Luck was in favour with minimal traffic on the way, an immediate parking spot and no crowds. This is like a dream situation for most Mumbaikars.

 Over the years the Zoo has undergone a whole lot of beautification. Beautification has nothing to do with betterment. The condition of the zoo and its inmates has only deteriorated but more of that later.
The newspapers had reported massive crowds wanting a look at the "Phoren se aaya hua Penguin Log". This was my only fear which turned out to be unnecessary as there barely seemed to be any visitors on a public holiday. And none of the those mumbai darshan buses seemed to be there. Demonetization had no effect on the zoo tickets. You could pay in coins and get in. At Rs. 5/- for an adult and Rs. 2/- for a child (a total of Rs. 12/- for three) I had paid more for parking my car (Rs. 20/-).

For all the crores spent on creating the special enclosure, there is not a single sign board giving directions to the penguin enclosure. Initially we followed the crowds in the general direction they were taking since this was the numero uno exhibit currently but gave up after a few minutes in the searing heat. We finally got to it by asking 3 security guards and one gardener at various cross roads within the zoo. I knew we had reached my destination given the heavy police presence on the last mile. Right at the back of the zoo and a considerable walk away, there stood a massive 2 storey white and blue building with "Humboldt Penguin Kaksha" in marathi headlining it. But that’s not where you enter from. You have to walk at least 200 metres around the building, go to the back of it and enter. Photography not allowed. Mobile phones in your pocket. What follows is a complete let down.

Given the size of the structure that the exhibit is housed in, there is a viewing frontage of only about 30 feet. Okay let's be lenient and make it 35 feet. There is nothing inside that comes even remotely close to resembling  a natural habitat of the Penguins. There were seven of these Humboldt Penguins. Down from the eight originally imported. Strangely they seemed to be freezing and were barely moving. You could have moved one of the fiber-glass replica ones kept outside into here and nobody would have noticed the difference. This was a complete gyp. All that we have seen on television were these shiny coated black and white creatures with yellow feet and beaks sliding on ice bergs, diving into the sea and swimming away and that is the expectation that most people must have come here with. These were the poor cousins of the Emperor Penguins whom we are most accustomed to seeing in any generic picture of penguins or on television. For all you know our guys could have been two year old kids in penguin suits made to stand in a large freezer. The python in the sun showed more movement. Slum dwellers get larger apartments free of cost. Given the size of the entire structure, couldn't there have been a larger enclosure?.

The poor penguins looked completely lost and scared. They had nowhere to go. On one side was a four foot deep pool 30 feet in length and may be 3 feet wide along side the glass viewing frontage and on the other was something to resemble icy mountains. High on top of these "mountains" were windows that looked out into the zoo compound with the sun shining in. This is probably what prison cells must be like. But one of them made his views clear. He turned around, raised his tail and shot out poop in the direction of the viewers. This was the high point with the crowds going "potty kiya".

The viewing was done in like 3 minutes tops. You couldn't view any longer. Not because you didn't want to but you were being ushered out by the guards. So out we were to see the rest of the zoo or whatever there was of it.

The rest of the zoo itself is in a deplorable condition. Many structures half demolished. New structures coming up seemingly without a plan. Animals and birds visibly unable to bear the summer heat. The Emus looked like prisoners incarcerated for life without having committed any crime.
The ponds in most enclosures were either bereft of water or covered in filth. The deer were lying in the shade of some trees escaping the heat. Luckily the Hippos had enough water for mamma and baby to completely immerse themselves. Most of the birds looked tired and depressed. There were no lions, tigers, monkeys or their ilk or at least we didn't see them.

What are we trying the achieve by keeping animals and birds in such deplorable conditions. Gone is the age of showcasing wild life in tiny cages in an attempt to bring nature to the common man. Television does it better and cheaper. 

A serious re-think needs to be done on the utility of the zoo and how well it can be planned and managed.

Here are some Random Sign Boards at the Zoo

Not Lost in Translation or Transliteration

For the hungry ones

Whatever you are having, have it around the shop only