Not being able to stomach seeing captive animals (especially
wide-ranging ones like leopards or owls)....and after the death of the
tigers at Bannerghatta Zoo...I had not stepped into it for more than a
decade. I would go early in the morning, walk around the area,
sighting birds and other creatures, and return by the time the Zoo
However, in the recent past, I've often gone on an overnight nature
camp with children, at Jungle Lodges and Resorts (JLR) property in
Bannerghatta. The stay includes the Herbivore and Carnivore safaris,
and a visit to the Zoo and the Butterfly Park. I have come to realize
the value of these in educating children about wildlife.
This weekend, I had taken 15 children, with a schoolteacher from
Sindhi School. These children were, by far, the most well-informed and
keen amateur naturalists one could wish for. The sight of a Praying
Mantis excited them just as much as seeing a white (or a "regular")
tiger...and all the time they were on the campus, or the nature walk,
they looked at birds and insects with as much attention as they gave
to the mammals. Ms. Subbalakshmi, as I have earlier mentioned, gets no
support from the school, but takes it upon herself to bring the
children out into nature. I have taken them on a Lalbagh walk, and
later, on a nature trail in the zoo area.
When I go with the children on the safaris or to the zoo, I usually
ask them, later, what they enjoyed about it. I was happy to see that
this time, several children said that though they enjoyed seeing the
animals, they didn't like their being in cages or even in enclosures.
"If someone made me sit in this bus all the time, even if it is a big
bus, I'll not like it," said one pereceptive child. They were
interested in trees and plants, too, and the Flame of the Forest, with
its visiting birds, held their attention for a long time.
The children actually tried to prevent a tourist from feeding the baby
elephant at the Zoo...and were so careful about their trash
management. They actually tried to analyse the animal scat and the
elephant dung we saw on our nature trail in the forest this morning!
It was extremely heartening.
Even when the children are not so well-informed, I find that their
interest gets awakened by seeing the animals and birds at close
quarters, and often, they start noticing other things, too. They are
able to relate to them, and then listen avidly to all that we have to
say about them, and their habitat. An overnight stay does seem to open
their eyes and ears to a lot of interesting sights and sounds.
I was also impressed by the health of the Sloth Bears that have been
rescued from various locations and brought here. Even the Gaur, Bhima,
which killed a man, has been sequestered carefully at one end of the
Herbivore Safari area, where he and others can be safe.
Though the trash situation outside the Zoo is an utter mess, inside it
is pretty well controlled, though, of course, the macaques often dig
out the trash from the bins.
Also, on Saturday,the 18th Feb, we witnessed high drama in the
King Cobra enclosure, as the King chased a Rat Snake out of the
vegetation, fought furiously with it, and then bit it right across
the middle. The struggle went on for quite some time and we had to
leave, unable to see if the King ate the snake after all. This was a
wildlife event right in the enclosure of the Zoo!
The fuzzy pics (taken through the metal mesh) are on my FB album, The
King is a Cannibal, at
So...I reserve my original judgement about zoos and agree that they
can play a role in education...as well as the breeding of endangered
species and rehabilitating them in the wild.
If you'd like to see an account of the overnight camp, it's on a
Picasa album, with a short narrative, at
Alas, the trip has proved very expensive for me as I could not even ask the children to bear my bus charges, let alone Poornima's and my stay! I've decided that in future, since I am volunteering my time and effort, I will at least ask for my costs to be borne by the group.
It was as satisfying a trip, in its way, as the "proper forest" trip to Bandipur.