Unlike in Western countries, adopting zoo animals is yet to pick up in India. Zoological Gardens in Kolkata is experimenting with such a scheme

It might take some time for Indians to warm up to the idea of adopting animals to give a push to conservation. A quick study of the adoption schemes rolled out by some of the zoos across the country point out to lacklustre demand. Lack of awareness and sensitivity of people towards animal adoption schemes are being cited as some of the reasons for the poor show.

A classic example is the “Adopt an Animal” scheme rolled out by the Alipore Zoological Gardens in Kolkata recently. The zoo managed to get adoption interest for only about 40 animals, including tiger, rhinoceros, leopards, bears and jaguar. This is even while it houses over 100 species and close to 1,200 animals.

“We have got 40 applications for adoption. It will take about one to two months to screen and process the applications following which a memorandum of understanding will be signed and a certificate of adoption will be handed over to the foster parent,” said K.L. Ghosh, Director of Alipore Zoo. The zoo expects to collect close to Rs. 30 lakh through such an adoption programme.

According to Mr. Ghosh, there have been no takers for the deer, monkeys and a majority of bird species except macaw and peacock. Under such adoption schemes, usually, the foster parents get a complimentary zoo pass and receive periodic information about the upkeep of the animal. They are allowed to use photos of the animal adopted in newspapers, magazines, and websites. This apart, they also enjoy tax exemption.

Way to go

While animal adoption at zoos is a popular concept in the West in the zoos of California-based San Diego and the Singapore Zoo, it is yet to gather steam in India.

Of the 198 odd zoos in the country (large, medium and small put together), only about 20 zoos (a majority of them in south India) run such schemes inviting individuals and corporates to conserve wildlife either by adoption (by paying an annual adoption fee) or by taking part in management and maintenance of animals by paying a membership fee, said Brij Kishor Gupta, Evaluation & Monitoring Officer, Central Zoo Authority.

“Adoption schemes were introduced by some zoos about 10-15 years back. A few of them, particularly in south India, have managed to have success with such schemes by mobilising steady resources. While people are interested in getting involved in conservation activities, it really depends on how each zoo manages the issue,” Mr. Gupta said.

Implementation challenges

Lack of awareness is one of the key constraints in getting more people involved in such projects. “The adoption programme really depends on how it is structured and who is executing it. The success of such schemes will largely depend on the way it is conducted,” said a wildlife conservation expert.

Concerns have been raised at the effective implementation of the scheme at the Alipore Zoo, which was till recently plagued with issues such as animal deaths and frequent change in its director. A study by PETA India reveals that close to 67 animals, including tigers, lions, chimpanzees, kangaroos, birds and snakes have died at the Alipore Zoo during August 2011 and March 2012. During the same period (2011-12), it went through nine directors. The number of animal deaths in the zoo stood at about 53 in 2010-11.

In an e-mail response to a questionnaire, R.S. Agarwal, joint chairman of Emami Group, who has expressed interest in adopting a tiger and an elephant under the scheme, said, “Adoption of animals is a popular concept in zoos abroad ensuring the animals to live a healthy life while in captivity. The high quality maintenance [available at zoos abroad] can be implemented in our zoos if the fund shortage required for such arrangements can be overcome with initiatives like this.”

There is a need to sensitise people and spread awareness. It also calls for providing regular updates to people about the animals adopted, said Sanjay Budhia, managing director of Patton Group, who plans to adopt a rhinoceros. He expects the awareness to spread through word of mouth.

Keeping the zoos clean and animals healthy will go a long way in drawing people’s attention and getting them involved in such conservation initiatives, according to B.P. Ravi, Executive Director, Chamarajendra Zoological Gardens in Mysore. This zoo, which was among the first ones to introduce such adoption schemes, earns annual revenue of over Rs. 30 lakh.

Habitat preservation

According to Bhuvaneshwari Gupta, campaign advisor, PETA India, zoos are prisons for animals where they are denied natural behaviour like flying, swimming, running, climbing, and scavenging and partner selection. The physical and mental frustrations of captivity makes animals go insane with behaviour such as repetitive swaying, constant pacing and head bobbing.

Expressing concerns over such schemes, a wildlife conservation expert said, “Wildlife and animals is far more fashionable these days. It is only a handful of people who have the money who are going in for such adoption. To make such schemes successful we need increased participation from common people.”