Kohima gets restless as he hears the approaching van. He knows what is in it — frozen watermelon pieces. This is a summer special for the six-year-old Himalayan black bear. In addition to watermelon, he and his female companion, Dimapur, have a regular diet of rice, boiled eggs, grapes, apples, cucumber, bread, groundnut, pumpkin, and honey (100 ml), twice a day. The duo was brought to Thiruvananthapuram zoo from Nagaland in 2017.
With the mercury levels rising, specific care is given to the residents on the 36-acre Thiruvananthapuram zoo. The daily menu has been tweaked for most of the animals. “We include fruits and vegetables that are juicy and fleshy, especially watermelons and salad cucumbers, so that residents are not dehydrated. Both animals and birds relish those,” says TV Anilkumar, Superintendent of the zoo.
In the 155-plus kilograms of fruits and vegetables purchased daily, there are 25 kilograms of watermelon, nine kilograms of salad cucumber, 20 kilograms of cucumber ( vellari ) and 25 kilograms of different banana varieties. “Salad cucumber is an addition this year because the animals like it more than vellari . We have even cut down the quantity of vellari by five kilograms,” adds Sangeetha Mohan, Curator at the zoo.
Carnivores reduce their meat intake during the summer months. “For instance, tigers normally consume seven kilograms of meat daily. It comes down to five kilograms or so,” says Dr Jacob Alexander, Zoo Veterinarian. Over 86 kilograms of meat (beef and chicken) is needed on a day for the carnivorous animals including seven tigers, two lions, six leopards, 10 hyenas, two foxes and four jungle cats.
- The diet chart is prescribed by the Central Zoo Authority.
- There are over 1,200 animals belonging to 105 species at the zoo. While primates and carnivores are fed only in the morning, rest of the animals have a meal at 11.30 am and 4 pm. Carnivores fast on Mondays, a regular holiday for the zoo.
- Water birds, otters, gharials and turtles eat fish. Ducks and swans have rice, amaranthus, green gram and cucumber. Peacocks and pheasants eat green chillies, coriander leaves, green gram, cooked rice and big onions.
- Among the flightless birds, rheas prefer cabbage, carrot, poultry feed, amaranthus and rice. While ostriches have amaranthus mixed with dog food, bananas and vegetables, emus are given carrot and bananas.
- Rhinos have cattle feed, cucumber, carrot, long beans, onion, grass, fodder and mineral mix.
Monkeys now get more fruits, especially oranges and grapes, besides their daily meal of boiled eggs (they love egg whites!), guava, apple, bananas, coconut, papayas, groundnut (husked and de-husked), tomatoes, pineapple and long beans.
Elaborate arrangements are also in place to keep the animals hydrated throughout the day. Sprinklers and fans have been installed inside the enclosures of rheas and nilgais or blue bulls. “We operate the sprinklers at noon and they happily soak in the water to cool off. Or they move towards the fans to get relief. Sprinklers also ensure that there is enough green vegetation in the enclosures,” adds Anilkumar.
Meanwhile tigers, leopards and lions have the luxury of showers and concrete water pools within their cages. They love to rest in the water. Water is let out to the enclosures of Barasingha (swamp deer) and sambar deer so that they can create their own swampy environment with puddles, adds Dr Jacob. The regular diet for deer and other herbivores is a concentrated ration with cattle feed, Bengal gram sprouts, cotton seed and green gram, salt and mineral mix, besides grass and fodder. Mineral block and salt licks are always kept in the enclosures.
Birds get to eat more leafy greens these days, especially green amaranthus, which they have with rice. “Garlic used to be an ingredient in their diet. But we dropped it ever since they showed an aversion to its taste,” Sangeetha says.
Special care is being given to three ostriches, two males and female. A few years ago an ostrich had died of heat stroke. It is the courting season for the ostrich and already seven eggs have been been laid.
In the reptile house, water is kept in clay pots for snakes to coil up against when temperature goes up. The three King cobras and two anacondas have the luxury of air-conditioned enclosures. While the anacondas, Dhil and Ruth, are fed a chicken and a rabbit once a week, the cobras feast on rat snakes.
While summer is a difficult time for all zoos in the country, the situation is better in Thiruvananthapuram. “That is because Kerala doesn’t have extreme weather conditions, be it summer or winter. So all we have to do is take measures to bring down the temperature during summer. There are enough ponds for some animals. The staff keeps a tab on the animals even at night and refill the water basins,” Anilkumar says.