Revising my thoughts about Bannerghatta Zoo...

February 20, 2012

Here’s what I wrote to the wildlife/birding community yesterday:

Not being able to stomach seeing captive animals (especially wide-ranging ones like leopards or owls)….and after the death of the tigers at Bannerghatta Zoo…I had not stepped into it for more than a decade. I would go early in the morning, walk around the area, sighting birds and other creatures, and return by the time the Zoo opened.

However, in the recent past, I’ve often gone on an overnight nature camp with children, at Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) property in Bannerghatta. The stay includes the Herbivore and Carnivore safaris, and a visit to the Zoo and the Butterfly Park. I have come to realize the value of these in educating children about wildlife.

This weekend, I had taken 15 children, with a schoolteacher from Sindhi School. These children were, by far, the most well-informed and keen amateur naturalists one could wish for. The sight of a Praying Mantis excited them just as much as seeing a white (or a “regular”) tiger…and all the time they were on the campus, or the nature walk, they looked at birds and insects with as much attention as they gave to the mammals. Ms. Subbalakshmi, as I have earlier mentioned, gets no support from the school, but takes it upon herself to bring the children out into nature. I have taken them on a Lalbagh walk, and later, on a nature trail in the zoo area.

When I go with the children on the safaris or to the zoo, I usually ask them, later, what they enjoyed about it. I was happy to see that this time, several children said that though they enjoyed seeing the animals, they didn’t like their being in cages or even in enclosures. “If someone made me sit in this bus all the time, even if it is a big bus, I’ll not like it,” said one pereceptive child. They were interested in trees and plants, too, and the Flame of the Forest, with its visiting birds, held their attention for a long time.

The children actually tried to prevent a tourist from feeding the baby elephant at the Zoo…and were so careful about their trash management. They actually tried to analyse the animal scat and the elephant dung we saw on our nature trail in the forest this morning! It was extremely heartening.

Even when the children are not so well-informed, I find that their interest gets awakened by seeing the animals and birds at close quarters, and often, they start noticing other things, too. They are able to relate to them, and then listen avidly to all that we have to say about them, and their habitat. An overnight stay does seem to open their eyes and ears to a lot of interesting sights and sounds.

I was also impressed by the health of the Sloth Bears that have been rescued from various locations and brought here. Even the Gaur, Bhima, which killed a man, has been sequestered carefully at one end of the Herbivore Safari area, where he and others can be safe.

Though the trash situation outside the Zoo is an utter mess, inside it is pretty well controlled, though, of course, the macaques often dig out the trash from the bins.

Also, on Saturday,the 18th Feb, we witnessed high drama in the King Cobra enclosure, as the King chased a Rat Snake out of the vegetation, fought furiously with it, and then bit it right across the middle. The struggle went on for quite some time and we had to leave, unable to see if the King ate the snake after all. This was a wildlife event right in the enclosure of the Zoo!

The fuzzy pics (taken through the metal mesh) are on my FB album, The King is a Cannibal, at

So…I reserve my original judgement about zoos and agree that they can play a role in education…as well as the breeding of endangered species and rehabilitating them in the wild.

If you’d like to see an account of the overnight camp, it’s on a Picasa album, with a short narrative, at

Alas, the trip has proved very expensive for me as I could not even ask the children to bear my bus charges, let alone Poornima’s and my stay! I’ve decided that in future, since I am volunteering my time and effort, I will at least ask for my costs to be borne by the group.

It was as satisfying a trip, in its way, as the “proper forest” trip to Bandipur.