Turnout of animal lovers and enthusiast visitors has gone down at Chittagong Zoo, lying in an “uncared-for” state, the zoo needs immediate possible expansion, improved collection and better maintenance and security.
Chittagong Zoo -- a potential tourist spot for the port city of around 5 million that has little recreational facilities -- received around 2,000 visitors daily even five years ago. This figure has now dwindled to its half -- 800 to 1,000 visitors, according to the zoo officials.
On a recent visit, The Daily Star found the zoo in a shabby condition with bad odours gripping the whole area.
Many visitors there complained about its poor collection of animals, poor maintenance and its unsafe and shabby surroundings.
Established on February 28, 1989 in the city's hilly Foy's Lake area, Chittagong Zoo houses 320 animals, including 28 species of mammal, four reptiles, and 35 species of birds at present, said zoo officials. It has 40 cages, 2 lying vacant now, crammed into a six-acre land. A white albino crow, some endangered vultures and yellow hill tortoises and a few hornbills are some of the notable species.
A visitor, Sirajul Huq, said, "My children wanted to see the Bengal Tiger. But, they were disappointed when they saw an empty cage. "
“There are no unique animals here,” said Shohel Rana, another visitor. He said it took him only ten minutes to go through all the cages of the zoo, though he wanted to spend the whole afternoon there with his friends.
The centre of attractions of the zoo was two Bengal Tigers, two lionesses, a lion, a leopard, a few hyenas, and Emus in 2004. But the fascinating species died over the years.
One of the tigers died of intestine cancer in 2012 while the other died of natural causes.
Two new members, turkeys, got the tiger's cage but they are too small to attract the visitors from inside the large cage.
One of the lionesses was sent to Comilla Zoo in 2005 while another died in 2008. But before leaving the zoo, they gifted it two female cubs in 2008 which are now living in their father's cage as the king of animals was sent to Rajshahi Zoo in 2007.
But one important thing that the correspondent noticed is none of the cages of the tiger and lionesses has any grassy space inside for the animals to stroll on.
The lionesses, a black bear and a Para deer have been living in their cages without any mate. Besides, the birds are kept only in four cages. As a result, the birds and animals do not have proper facilities for reproduction.
Palash Dey, an animal lover who was visiting the zoo, scornfully said it seems that the animals are serving prison sentence in the small cages for the crime of being attractive.
Railings of some of the cages are broken while the others became fragile which is very dangerous, said the visitors.
Twenty deer of four species, 26 crocodiles, 33 monkeys of three species, and 10 pythons of two species are the other notable animals that turn the park into a zoo.
About the acrid odour, Deputy Curator Manjur Morshed Chowdhury said the cages are adjacent to one another without any space between them due to lack of land, which hinders the air flow and causes the odour.
Another visitor, Awlad Hossain, said, “Environment inside the zoo is unsafe and unhygienic. Stray dogs are roaming here freely and street urchins, beggars and hawkers often irritate the visitors by begging or nagging them to buy their products." The urchins also hurl stones at the animals.
It is very difficult for only one guard assigned for daytime while two others, designated for nighttime to keep eyes on all the beggars and urchins who also enter the zoo by climbing the walls, said the curator.
Besides the deputy curator, a veterinary surgeon, an accounts officer and a store officer are working. The 15-staff team includes six animal caretakers, two ticket counter staff, two ticket checkers, an MLSS and a gardener.
At least two more caretakers, two guards, one office helper and a cleaner are needed, said zoo sources.
Moreover, the rear end of the zoo is completely unprotected with a small barbed wire fence covering that part. None was found guarding it when this correspondent visited it.
“The zoo's expansion is a must for improving its environment. There are 10 to 15 acres of Khas land behind the zoo. However, this land is illegally occupied by slums. That's why, we cannot seal the rear side by building walls,” said Manjur.
Regarding the Khas land, Abdul Kader, additional deputy commissioner (revenue) of Chittagong district and also newly-appointed vice president of the zoo managing committee, said he would look into the matter.
The ticket price has increased to Tk 20 from Tk 10 in last ten years but no special attraction has been added to the zoo.
The zoo runs all its expenses by selling tickets which makes a monthly income of around Tk 7 lakh. There is no yearly allocation for animals, said the zoo authority.
The authorities have sent four letters to the fisheries and livestock ministry in the last two years, asking for 10 animals, including a lion, two tigers, a bear, a peahen, and Sambar dear. But they are yet to get any response.