The Arignar Anna Zoological Park's rehabilitation programme has many animals and birds in its care.

A visit to the zoo has always been an exciting “looked-forward-to” event at any given time. Packed picnics taste much yummier and whether you are with friends or family, the day is always remembered along with all the “hiccups” that is usually encountered on a day out.

Zoos can be open zoos — where the animals are in the open with deep trenches around their area or they can be closed zoos, where they are in cages. Sometimes it's a mixture of both. We enjoy looking at he birds and the animals, at times criticise the conditions they are in (if they look miserable) have a good time and go home with happy (or otherwise) memories. But zoos also play a very crucial role in looking after animals that are abandoned or ill treated.

Arignar Anna Zoological Park, commonly known as the Vandalur Zoo, is situated about 30 km from the heart of Chennai. It is one of the largest zoological parks in South Asia, spanning 1260 acres. Going round the zoo, one could be easily walking about 15 -20 kms.

The Vandalur Zoo receives a large number of animals from the Forest Department and other animal welfare organisations and NGO's involved in wildlife conservation.

Rescued orphan animals, (especially baby elephants found abandoned in the forests or fallen into dry wells), and those recued from circuses are brought to the Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre in the zoo. Endangered species that are rescued from being illegally traded are brought here and kept in quarantine for health care.

The Central Government has banned the training and exhibition of five species of animals: the tiger, lion, panther, bears and monkeys in 1998 and requested the Tamil Nadu State Government to set up the rescue and rehabilitation centre. A separate rescue centre in Arignar Anna Zoological Park was therefore established in an area of 250 acres away from the main zoo, and where people will not disturb these animals that are being rehabilitated. At present there are 32 lions and seven tigers recuperating from a traumatic experience of being ill treated in zoos. They are fed on 7 kg beef and 350gms of liver on a daily basis while Tuesday is a fasting day for the animals! The rescued bears were sent to the Bannerghatta zoo.

The zoo's veterinary doctors are on call and there's a modern veterinary hospital with a clinical room, pathology room, laboratory, operation theatre and quarantine facilities.

Supplying food for all the zoo animals (including the rehabilitated ones) is important. The herbivore animals get a diet of fruits, vegetables, wheat bran and fodder grass. The carnivores are given beef and chicken. The birds are fed fish. The quality of the feed is checked and tested before giving to the animals. This is main reason why visitors are forbidden to feed animals, for it could cause abnormal behaviour, digestive troubles, and they could even die. It was found that careless disposal of plastic bags have been the cause of many deaths of the zoo animals.

While these rehabilitated animals are under the protective care of the zoo authorities, there are other wildlife creatures to be rescued and this is done by the Rescue Centre at Velachery rescues animals in distress. Deer wandering confusedly are rescued. Many a cobra or any other snakes that slither uninvited into homes are caught by Irulas who are expert snake catchers and released into the forest. The officials said around 1200 snakes are annually rescued and released by them. Clutches of snakes eggs that are found are incubated and when they hatch the babies are given glucose and when the appropriate time arrives are released into the forest. A forest official at the centre related how about 80 monkeys that were harassing pilgrims at the Tirutanni temple were caught with food traps and released miles away from the temple.

It would be well to remember that wildlife is very much a part of our world and they do enrich and colour our lives. It is in our hands, to protect and preserve them.

If you see an animal in distress, call the Rescue Centre at 044 22200335

Please remember:

Zoo animals are not active all the time. Like us they too need rest, even during the daytime.

It is cruel to throw stones, sticks, plastic and other objects at them. Knocking on glass panes may frighten them.

It is dangerous to throw coins and other objects into water moats and pools- it could choke the animals when they swallow it.

Never climb over the barriers and fences and tease or provoke the animal.