Despite the challenges of the pandemic, zoos are ready to beat the heat with sprinklers, khus-khus rugs and animal fruit treats.

A rustle of dry leaves, muffled distant growls and an occasional splash of water are the only sounds that can be heard on a hot and sultry day at Arignar Anna Zoological Park (AAZP), popularly known as the zoo. Vandalur, in Chennai. With the mercury rising steadily, zoo officials are creating cool areas for the 2,600 animals and birds of 180 species.

Bamboo thatched roof shelters are located in 15 enclosures providing shade. “Work is underway to add 21 more shelters in animal enclosures,” says Naga Sathish Gidijala, deputy director of AAZP. Water sprinklers are in place in the majority of the pens, operating 24 hours a day to keep the animals cool.

“Our steps right now are barely 40% of pre-COVID levels,” says Gidijala, indicating the severe cash flow crisis the zoo is facing. “As a stand-alone unit, our main income comes from admission tickets, which suffered a major setback last year. The government had given funds of ₹ 6 crore last year to deal with animal feed. This summer, due to the cash shortage, we are only focusing on the animals and their welfare, but we have not been able to upgrade the facilities for visitors, ”adds Gidijala.

Nevertheless, at the level of the aviary, the birds receive regular showers. And the chimps look happy, enjoying watermelon popsicles.

Here's how zoos across India are preparing for the great Indian summer

The incorrigible Cheepa, the chimpanzee of Indira Gandhi Zoological Park of Visakhapatnam (IGZP), is in a agitated mood. He growls at his caretaker and looks away grumpily as the visitors enter. “The summer heat makes it difficult for them,” said the goalkeeper. Fortunately, a few enclosures down the road, the Royal Bengal Tiger is cheerful, as it benefits from the water jet from a newly installed sprinkler. Next to its enclosure, a white tiger swims languidly in the pool, then slumbers under the trees.

In the coastal town’s Zoological Park, arrangements are made to protect 810 animals of 90 species from the sweltering heat. The animals are currently housed in 77 enclosures spread over the 625 acres of the zoo. “We put fresh paints on the roofs of the houses at night, covered most of the enclosures with palm leaf blinds and installed water sprinklers,” says Nandani Salaria, curator of the IGZP.

For the birds, the aviaries were covered with palm leaf mats, which protect the sun’s rays and significantly reduce heat. Khus-khus mats hang above the enclosures of exotic species like the blue-green macaw.

Summer care includes refreshing foods such as watermelon, cucumber, and coconut water as well as supplements like vitamin B complex for the zoo’s oldest animals like Sirish, the white tiger, and the Indian gaur, Raja. In addition, fans are placed in enclosures for animals like wild dog, panther, chimpanzee, white tiger and hyena.

Here's how zoos across India are preparing for the great Indian summer

Rows of crotons are a welcome addition to the greenery of the Coimbatore Zoo. “We added ornamental plants to the entrance before summer arrived. The vast expanses of green lawns are repaired and kept moist throughout the day. Although the sun is setting, there is still a cool breeze which provides a comfort zone for the animals, ”says E Senthilnathan, director of the zoo.

The VOC Park Zoo in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, spread over four and a half acres, is home to more than 500 animals, including reptiles, mammals and birds. “For large birds like the emu, we spray water on the dense feathers twice a day. Every morning we spray water on the ground to dissipate the heat. For spotted deer, we continue to fill the ponds with water. The dense greenery provides enough shade and they feel free to run and graze, ”he adds.

In addition to placing additional drinkers in the enclosures of birds and reptiles, they are given fruit rich in water. “African parakeets, cockatiels and gray parrots now enjoy grapes, oranges and mosambi instead of their regular diet of seeds. Mammals like monkeys like watermelon and musk melon.

He adds: “Until kathiri veyil or agni nakshatram, when the high summer season ends and we get the first monsoon shower, we go through this routine.

Here's how zoos across India are preparing for the great Indian summer

In Hyderabad’s vast Nehru Zoological Park, despite the scorching weather, the defenders are happy – now they have more time to frolic in the shower. The leopard settles in front of a water sprinkler in its enclosure, yawning softly.

“More than 50 air coolers are installed in enclosures for animals of monkeys, tigers, lions, jaguars, cheetahs and leopards. Air conditioners and exhaust fans have been installed in the night animal facility and shelters have been provided for all herbivore enclosures, ”explains VVL Subhadra Devi, curator of the Nehru Zoological Park.

The diet is modified to include seasonal summer fruits like watermelon, musk melon, and citrus variety fruits. “Every now and then a large amount of clean drinking water is provided to all pet stores to prevent dehydration. Vitamin-C and B-complex supplements are dissolved in water, ”explains the curator.

In addition, drinking troughs are kept at various locations in the zoo for roaming animals and birds.

(With entries from K Jeshi)