At this stage, it would probably seem fitting if Chennai had a tagline that ran — ‘a city of unique firsts’. It is believed that the first public zoo in the country was started here.

The city has to thank Col. Edward Balfour who set up the Madras Zoo, or the Vandalur Zoo as it is known now. The story goes like this: in 1854, when the Madras Museum or the Government Central Museum had a young cheetah and tiger, there was a huge influx in the number of visitors. With this information, he established the Madras Zoo in the Museum grounds the following year.

Later the zoo was then shifted to the People’s Park and because of space constraints it was shifted to the Vandalur Forest Reserve (in 1976) and was officially inaugurated in 1985. Now named the Arignar Anna Zoological Park, Vandalur Zoo is based on the modern concepts of zoo design, according to the official website of the Central Zoo Authority of India.

What started with a cheetah and a tiger now includes the grizzled giant squirrel, spot billed duck, blackbucks, endangered animals like the Nilgiri macaques, exotic species such as the emu and cassowary and the many varieties of monkeys such as the Nilgiri langur, lion-tailed macaque, baboon, Hanuman langur and leaf-capped langur. Vandalur Zoo also houses a walk-through aviary and a butterfly house.

Chennai Central at The Hindu celebrates Madras Week

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