Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, December 3, 2009


Our local zoological garden

By M. Fayaad Islam
Photo: Zareef

Everybody knows a good zoo joke or two. And you could say that it was a good joke from the Internet that got me thinking about Dhaka zoo. We've all been in the loop about the recent flabbergasting conditions of our local zoological garden, widespread by the long arms of the media. I, being a person who particularly believes in the awesome embellishing powers of the media, decided that only witnessing the status of the zoo by myself would suffice for my everlasting search for the truth.

And thus, with a couple of my faithful comrades, I set out on my valiant quest further aided by some self motivating reflections about myself and the trip. Amongst us, apart from knowing the number of animals residing in the place, Zareef, my friend and I had no idea what Dhaka Zoo was like, or how big it was in-terms of size.

However, my ignorance on the matter did not stop me from seeking Leonard's assistance. Apart from the brilliance that is his company, he was the only one among us who had visited the place often and could provide navigation. Captain Kirk always needs his good friend Spock.

Upon arriving at the Mirpur Zoo, one must be forced to reflect upon the government's proper knowledge of the zoo and its role on society, at least in the case of pricing tickets, which was a reasonable Tk 10.

After a gruelling push through the immense crowds that are attracted to the place on weekends, we headed up towards the map, to plan a route by which we can see all the exhibits at the cost of the least amount of energy. One thing that bothered me was the lack of maps, both as handheld papers and stationary post. To experience all the inmates of such a large place, one must keep constant track of where they are so that none of them are missed.

The media was adamant in stating the poor conditions of the zoo, which at current is clearly visible, but in a few places. To my experience the zoo has taken precautions which may have been sufficient in most countries, but in truth, rudimentary for us.

After taking a few footsteps from the entrance we noticed a number of signs depicting how one should behave in the zoo both in picture and in writing. Hilarious as some of the drawings may be, they are obviously helpful both for the benefit of the zoo and its visitors, and for lightening the mood.

One should never start a tour of the zoo without the monkey exhibit. Clearly as energetic and mischievous as monkeys should be, they proved that lack of care or mismanagement was never going to stop them from clowning around. The zoo provides a pretty decent primate section with a respectable variety of species in relatively organised clean cages.

However, the whole point of the education obtained from the zoo is overlooked in some parts where it can be seen that there are places where information about the species of animals are missing.

As I was about reading the detailed description of the Olive Baboon that was present, I could not help but the actions of our own species that can be deemed below animals. From a nearby commotion we notice a man throwing pebbles at a rhesus monkey, which was sleeping. When we were set to stop this preposterous act, the man spit on the animal, which clearly upset the creature to the point that it started hammering on its chest, as if, challenging the man to a duel.

The coward standing outside the bars claimed that he wanted to see the monkey play when we enquired and much to our horror a crowd was beginning to gather in prospect of the man's success. Apart from the clarity that this act was deplorable in its entire nature, I could not find any person of authority, let alone a zoo official who would hold the man accountable for breaking the numerous rules.

Truth is I wasn't only expecting the “do not feed the animals” to be broken. Disappointingly the zoo is underemployed. Officials can hardly be seen around in the premises, as this causes hawkers to climb over walls, and people taking photographs with their flashes active, startling some of the animals.

The 'cat' section were a bit confusing to me. Expecting most of them to be in dire conditions, one can find them quite tolerable, although not great. The 17 lions and 14 tigers in the zoo seemed to be quite active, at least during feeding time, although some did seem a bit too scrawny. These types of problems are to be expected with only three veterinarians present in the entire zoo. Moreover those in charge of taking care of the animals are not trained for their work. It seems that from the Tk 3.75 crore from the yearly budget, out of which, Tk 2.50 crore is spent on animal feeds, is still not allocated efficiently to uplift these problems.

The conditions of the crocodiles and hippopotamuses were sub-standard. Most of them dwelling in stagnant water riddled with moss and fungus. What can be extremely depressing is the condition of the Rhinoceros. The animal seems to be malnourished, with claims by media that it is terminally ill.

The fish exhibits seemed well kept. It was quite unsettling to see that only the piranhas were so intent on staring at people through the glasses, whereas, the rest of their watery comrades shied away in our presence. I kept wondering what was going through their little heads. What was utterly pitiful is that from the brilliant aviary and numerous beautiful birds, most of the magnificent peacocks were missing their fantails. A quick glance shows that hawkers up and about are selling brilliant peacock feathers. One may only sum up the numbers to see the problem.

We were pretty exhausted on our way towards the exit, partly by visually covering most of the 186.63 acres of zoo space, and partly due to rebuking some of the people obstinate in hampering with the animal peace. When a heated discussion with a man who wanted to know why he couldn't poke the lion ended, it left me pretty irritated.

However, my mood was uplifted by a pretty entertaining sign. It showed a man inside a cage and animals poking him from outside. The writing told people to imagine themselves in place of the animals and think a second time before bothering them, the success of which may only be called rhetorical. The Dhaka Zoo, with all its lacking, is still a decent place to visit. Apart from rekindling ones interest for animals and entertaining oneself with the monkey experience, it should be visited at least once by all.



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