The Arignar Anna Zoological Park, Vandalur, has now banned visitors from bringing in food and beverages, in order to prevent animals from feeding on snacks brought by visitors, as well as on paper and plastic litter.

Visitors to the zoo on Sunday were taken by surprise by the move, which authorities said was only brought into effect recently. The decision was taken in the wake of incidents of animals swallowing sheets of paper, plates, polythene bags and foil.

A spokesperson of the zoo said that some months ago, a visitor had deliberately thrown a soft drink bottle into the white tigers’ enclosure. Attracted by the smell, one of the tigers attempted to eat it, but fortunately a staff member managed to remove it. A few weeks later, a hippopotamus ended up with a plastic bottle stuck in its teeth after it had attempted to eat the bottle floating in a moat inside its enclosure.

There have been more serious instances too, of several herbivorous animals suffering from diarrhoea. A spotted deer died after swallowing enormous quantities of plastic bags. This was discovered only after an autopsy was performed.

The official said that visitors also often threw food they had brought into the animals’ enclosures. He said animals had been found eating deep fried snacks, wafers, chocolates and even cooked food like briyani and small portions of meat. This unnatural diet led to health complications and the animals often also demonstrated behavioural changes.

Arboreal animals (living primarily on trees) like the lion-tailed macaque and the Nilgiri langur for instance, stayed on the ground, expecting food from visitors and ignoring the food given by the zoo staff.

 Visitors will now have to give any bags containing food to an official at one of the spare ticket booths, then continue on into the zoo and come back to the booth (near the entrance) to retrieve their bags when they want to have lunch.

Infant food and drinking water however, are exempt. Visitors can re-enter the zoo with their original tickets if they want to go back after lunch.

The move drew mixed responses from visitors. While some found it inconvenient, others said it was much-needed.

“It is very inconvenient for families like ours who have come from other towns. There should be an alternative arrangement,” said K.A. Kannappan, who along with his wife Kannagi and their three children had come from Nazarathpet in Kancheepuram district.

 However, V. Ramamurthy, a senior citizen said, “It is a welcome measure. It will be tough initially, but people will get used to it. Feeding and teasing of animals should stop and the zoo should be kept free of garbage.”

Another visitor said that when it came to protecting animals, there should be no half measures. “People pay a huge amount to visit theme parks and they have a complete ban on bringing food from outside,” said V. Jothi, a college student, who has earlier volunteered at the zoo.

A fellow student suggested opening low cost Amma canteens for the benefit of visitors. He said visitors brought their own food as there were limited options inside and around the zoo.

In May last year, 3.6 lakh people visited the zoo and around 25,000 people have visited it every Sunday this May.

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