Vandalur zoo has a packed reptile enclosure

By Balasubramani Muniyandi Published on Jul 21, 2018 02:47 PM IST

Chennai: In continuation of our Zoo Tales series, centered on Arignar Anna Zoological Park, famoulsy known as Vandalur zoo, this week our focus will be on reptiles - specifically turtles, tortoises and crocodiles.

Even as we were walking towards the reptile enclosure, a few visitors were talking about how unclean and dirty the water looked.

Zoo veterinarian K Sridhar with a wry smile said. “Only if we change the water every day and keep it clean these reptiles will get affected. It is not that we do not clean the water, but this is how the natural environment of the reptiles will be. This is their ecosystem and we do not interfere with it unless needed,” he said.

He added when it comes to reptiles, their focus was more on the eco-system than on the animals.

“Health assessment is done by calculating various elements such as pH level of water, relative humidity, temperature, windspeed and radiation. If all these factors are normal, then the animals will stay healthy. Sands that are kept in the reptile enclosures are flamed at 1,000 degrees Celsius and disinfectants are used to kill parasitic worms,” he said.

Zoo director S Yuvaraj and deputy director Sudha Ramen have been very supportive and have provided us with the latest portable machines to calculate these factors, said the vets at the zoo hospital.


Veterinarian Boon Allwyn said a variety of tortoises and turtles are kept in the facility. “However, the most popular of them all is the star tortoise which any avid news reader will be familiar with. Not a single day passes without news about people trying to smuggle the species. Though we do not know the actual reason behind the act, it is believed that they are being smuggled for rearing as pets and as ‘vasthu’ animals,” he said.

Talking about the process involved after taking in these animals, Boon said they are first stabilised, their vitals checked and they are isolated in the transit area and screened for endoparasites.

“Rehabilitation is done for these animals as they will be under stress due to human intervention. After this, they are acclamatised to the zoo conditions and given natural feed. Each turtle has its own biometric and geo-tagging. Once the turtle gets healthy, we release them in their respective location if they are not needed in the zoo,” he added.

He further said It is hard to identify a sick turtle / tortoise and most of the times they fall sick in groups.

Boon said it is tough to condition or train reptiles. “We conduct trials and see what they like and what they eat.”

He said the pH level of the water in the turtle enclosure is checked once a month which helps to know what is happening with the animals.

“The animal keepers will inform us about any visible change. People are worried about how dirty the water is. However, the algae in the water and the turtles coexist which helps the animals stay healthy,” he explained.

Veterinarian Kalaignan chipping in about how they identify a sick reptile. One of the main factors is the movement of the animal, he said.

“If a reptile does not have much movement, it means that it is healthy; more frequent the animal moves, more the chances that it is sick,” he said.

As far as the reptiles are concerned they save all their energy for eating and reproducing. They need to maintain optimal temperature even to digest their food, he said.

Unlike in mammals, tranquilisers do not work in reptiles. They will be effective only if the reptiles are in their optimum temperature.

“Reptiles are early animals, as the drug will go to the kidney if injected through the hind legs, we inject in the forelimb if at all required,” said Kalaignan.


Boon said when it comes to treating crocodiles, tranqulisers will be of little help and this is where the role of the animal keepers comes into play. Even without knowing what is animal conditioning, they have been doing it for years.

“The biggest problem with crocs is infighting. Very rarely one or two will have deficiency or bone problem and we alter the diet and give supplements. The enclosures of the reptiles are located based on a design which will suit the animals kept in that particular location,” he said.

There are around 11 varieties of crocodiles from different geographical places. “We have scute cutting, which helps in marking the animals. Finding out a sick reptile is challenging, Crocodiles get sick individually. During treatment we use snare technique and isolate the croc to treat it,” said Boon.


Crocodile keeping its mouth open is not to attract food. Rather, it is to regulate temperature. The blood in the vascular region that is exposed to the air, will carry the heat into the body to regulate the temperature. It is called basking.


Now that reptiles have been covered, now we move on to mammals. Take an elephant safari with us on 28 July.