As the Nehru Zoological Park in Hyderabad celebrates its Golden Jubilee this year, The Metroplus team go on an early morning tour of the zoo to capture the mood of the animals at their morning best and to see how the zoo gets ready for the day. The photographs are a result of a patient wait of no less than thirty minutes at almost every enclosure.

It is 8:30 a.m. at the Nehru Zoological Park. Even as the weather in the rest of the city goes through fickle periods of scorching heat and humidity at this time of the year, the premises of the park remain enveloped in cool pleasantness. We are at the zoo store where the officer in charge is supervising the animals’ meal for the day and we watch as the staff count and ration the food. A bucket full of apples, fresh vegetables and boiled eggs for the primates; fodder for the herbivores; grains for the peasants, parakeets and macaws; and raw beef for the carnivores are to arrive in a few hours. To maintain as much control over the animals’ diet, the zoo farms its own fodder and cattle for beef are fed in the zoos premises for a month before slaughter.

A lively peeping brings our attention to a blue plastic carton; peering inside, we see a clutch of little chicks. “They are for the Kites and the smaller carnivores. We let the live chicks into the enclosure so these animals can hunt them, as they do in the wild,” assures a staff member matter of factly, delivering a sharp reminder of the hierarchy of the food chain and the survival of the fittest. After all maintaining a zoo, with animals ranging from the nocturnal slender Loris to the water-loving otter to the tropical macaws, requires maintaining the natural order, even if it means feeding fluffy day-old chicks to civet cats.

But being mindful of the order of the food chain is one of the easiest steps to maintaining this order. In order to keep the animals healthy and active, the zoo needs to simulate their natural habitat as much as it can. While the zoo is covered in rich flora, enough to maintain temperatures to a certain degree, the water sprayer attached to the cages of some exotic animals like the scarlet macaw, help to maintain a level of humidity during Hyderabad’s dry summers. In the nocturnal house, the lights are dimmed during the day to ensure animals like the bat and porcupines are up and about during visiting hours.

In the zoo store, the rationed food is loaded onto trucks, and dropped off at common points from where they are picked up by others who have the job of feeding it to the animals. Theirs is the more challenging task of entering enclosures and making sure the animal has had its daily meal. While some, like the carnivores and herbivores, are fed twice a day, some others like the Indian boa constrictor are fed a large meal once a week.

Walking past the cages and enclosures, we see that the smaller ones are being cleaned in preparation for the day; we pass by as a worker splashes frothy soap water on the glass enclosure as he washes it from the inside, even as the nocturnal jungle cat waits patiently by.

Three hours later, the air is filled with the gentle hum of the golf carts and the excited chattering of school children as they talk animatedly about the animals they are most excited to see. By this time, the animals have been fed, the cages cleaned and the people who do the work at a safe distance, and the children are just in time to see the Nehru Zoological Park at its most natural.

Naturally fifty

The Nehru Zoological Park of the city will be 50-years-old this Sunday and this makes it an occasion for us to stroll through the zoo and talk about its unique features; it’s one of the largest zoos in India. Also known as the Hyderabad Zoo, it is spread over a 380 acre land and is home to some of the most exotic birds and animals. The zoo was shifted here from its original location at the Nampally Public Gardens in 1963. Since then the zoo has been attracting an average of 15 lakh visitors annually.

There are several features that make the Hyderabad zoo unique. And with each passing year, the zoo authorities have been introducing new and special ways to make the zoo visitor and environmental friendly.

Oldest occupants Since it’s the zoo’s golden anniversary, we should see the tortoise and the elephant; because these two inhabitants are older than the zoo itself. How? They are the only two surviving animals who were transferred from what was simply called the Zoo at the Public Gardens in Nampally. Though the actual age of these animals is not documented, it is estimated that the tortoise is close to 80 years old.

To make the tour of the zoo easy for visitors the zoo has an orientation programme hall right at the beginning. Here, a slide show provides information about the species of birds and animals in captivity.

Nocturnal animals This is Hyderabad Zoo’s unique feature. Nocturnal animals pose a challenge as visitors cannot see their activities during the day. The enclosure in this Zoo uses technology in the form of regulated lights to keep these animals active. The lights are gradually dimmed during the day to simulate night, so that visitors can see their activities in their natural habitat. At night, the lights are brightened to simulate day, when they are inactive and take rest.

White tigers cubs The two ten month old white tigers born in captivity are at their playful best during the day, blissfully unmindful of what the visitors want them to do for a photograph.

The safari This ride is something which is the closest to a safari in the wild. Except that here the open jeeps are replaced with netted buses which are safe and still allow a good view of the animals in their natural habitat. The safari takes visitors through a tour of the tiger, lion, bison and bear enclosures. Each of these animals is separated by heavy duty doors and gates that are inter-connected.

Battery operated carts and cycles To be able to enjoy a ride and yet not harm the environment, opt for the battery operated golf carts or choose to cycle around. The battery operated golf carts are driven around the enclosure and stopped for a while as the drivers double up as zoo guides. Cycling around the area can be fun too with the different terrain and easy access to almost all the enclosures.