Vandalur zoo recreates tiger jungle in urban landscape

By Balasubramani Muniyandi Published on Aug 18, 2018 12:22 PM IST

Chennai: In this week's Zoo Tales, featuring Arignar Anna Zoological Park, popularly known as Vandalur zoo, we will focus on one of the major attractions in the facility - the tiger.

The national animal is on top of the food chain and has a major impact on the ecosystem. The zoo veterinarians said projecting a healthy tiger to the public is all-important.

They said the zoo management, headed by director Yuvraj and deputy director Sudha Ramen, have been very particular about this and have not compromised when it comes to providing any facility that is needed for the upkeep of tigers.

Speaking to 'News Today', zoo veterinarian K Sridhar said there is no point in making visitors see the tigers inside a small cage. "This will deprive them of the thrill and feel of how these animals actually behave in their natural habitat. So, extra measures are taken to ensure that the enclosures are as natural as possible," he said, and added that they have about 20 royal Bengal tigers and 10 white tigers.

Another veterinarian, Boon Allwin, said the tigers are very intelligent and territorial. "Tigers are crepuscular in the wild - which means they are active during dawn and dusk," he added.

He said there are five tiger enclosures at the zoo and each one has a unique nature. The five enclosures are - tiger mount, heterozygous, breeding point, white tiger enclosure and new tiger enclosure.

Elaborating on the enclosures, veterinarian Pa Kalaignan said the tiger mount is the first enclosure and a conventional system. "This set-up closely resembles the actual living area of the tiger in the wild. Visitors will also get a small trekking feel as they have to climb a mount before seeing the animal. The tigers in this enclosure are allowed to freely roam the entire space," he said.

Speaking about the white tiger enclosure, Boon said, "This is one of the major attractions of the zoo. As the name suggests, only white tigers are kept here and they have been given a natural habitat to move freely."

The breeding centre is exclusively for animals to breed and most often it is not open to the public, Sridhar said.

"There is a separate SOP that will be followed during the breeding time. Compatible pairs are put together after a pedigree analysis. Hybrid vigour will be an important factor to derive the maximum performance from the father and mother. Gestation period for a tiger is 105 days," he added.

The heterozygous enclosure houses the breed of the royal Bengal tiger and white tiger.

"A gene variation in the skin of the royal Bengal tiger results in the look of the white tiger. Apart from that they are the same. The heterozygous enclosure has a different approach to public viewing - it will be jam packed. With streams, benches, trees and bushes, it gives a view of the complete eco-system," Kalaignan added.

The latest one is the new tiger enclosure recently inaugurated by Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami. This aims to give close visibility for the public.

"We want to create an exact replica of their natural habitat and, hence, we have given them high rise platform, streams, bushes and trees, just like in the jungle," they said.

FROM VETS PERSPECTIVE

Compared to herbivores, the vets said, tigers are far more manageable. The maximum problem comes when they have territorial fights.

"Our immobilisation protocol is one of the safest. Blood profiling is done once every four months. We keep track of the animal’s history and treatment card of each animal is maintained. They are dewormed regularly and vaccination is also given. Every tiger is microchipped to keep the animal ID for reference," Sridhar said.

Making the tigers compatible is one of the major tasks and this is a prolonged exercise which takes at least one or two months. They follow hierarchical system inside the enclosure.

DOUBLE SECURITY

Every enclosure is made based on the Central Zoo Authority specifications. They are double reinforced. Only after one cage is locked, the other can be opened.

FEEDING HABITS 

As far as their feeding habit is concerned, 10 kg of beef is fed to male tigers and 7 kg to the tigress. Tuesday is no food day. Each animal is given feed individually. In the wild, the felines eat once in 22 days on an average.

PREPARING FOR THE WILD

The vets said the aim of the zoo is not only to keep the animals healthy for display, but prepare them to survive in the wild, if need arises.

"For a predator, it is important that its natural instinct is kept intact. Since most of the tigers are born in the zoo, they do not have hunting practice. But to keep their senses sharp, we do behavioural enrichment. We spray the dung of samba deer and gaur in the enclosure after the animal is caged for the day. This will trigger its instincts when it is released on the next day. They become exploratory and active," they said.

They further added that they also sensitise the tigers to the smell of other cats and wild dogs giving a platform to experience what it is like to actually live in a jungle.

WHITE HISTORY

Mohan was the founding father of the white tigers of Rewa. He was captured as a cub in 1951 by the Maharaja of Rewa, whose hunting party in Bandhavgarh found a tigress with four 9-month-old cubs, one of which was white. All of them were shot except the white cub.

After shooting a white tiger in 1948 the Maharaja of Rewa had resolved to capture one, as his father had done in 1915, at his next opportunity. Water was used to lure the thirsty cub into a cage, after he returned to a kill made by his mother.

The white cub mauled a man during the capture process and was clubbed on the head and knocked unconscious. He was not necessarily expected to wake up, and this was his second brush with death.

He recovered, though, and was housed in the unused palace at Govindgarh. The Maharaja named him Mohan, which roughly translates as 'Enchanter'.

TWIST IN TAIL

What is a tiger story without talking about its hunting prowess? Know the role of a tiger's tail in catching its prey. We will also be discussing in detail about the bio-mechanism of the animal and can the animal's attack actually be equal to one ton weight. Read about all this in our next edition of Zoo Tales on 25 August.

These beautiful clicks were taken by our lensman C Santhosh.