Eleven months after it was shut due to the lockdown, Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan (Byculla zoo or Rani Baug) is likely to reopen for visitors from February 15. The zoo will operate in accordance with the state government’s Mission Begin Again. However, with the bird flu still lurking, its administration has decided to keep the aviary that houses 200 plus birds of 100 different species of rare, exotic and common birds shut as a precautionary measure.
According to Dr Sanjay Tripathi, director of Byculla Zoo, a proposal to reopen Byculla zoo from February 15, 2021, has been submitted to municipal commissioner Iqbal Singh Chahal for approval. "We are now awaiting a nod from the civic chief," said Tripathi.
However, owing to the bird flu scare, the walk-through aviary will remain shut, Tripathi said, adding that other enclosures like those of tigers, penguins and leopards, amongst others, will open for the general public as usual while maintaining the COVID-19 safety protocols .
In June, the Central Zoo Authority (CZA), under the Union Environment Ministry allowed zoo operators to take a call on reopening zoological parks for visitors. Following the relaxation of lockdown rules under Unlock 1 from June 1, a review by the Maharashtra Zoo Authority (MZA) showed that none of the state zoos had opted to reopen. This also includes the Sanjay Gandhi National Park (SGNP) (classified as a mini-zoo by CZA). Zoo operators highlighted the example of a tiger that had tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, at Bronx Zoo in New York on April 5. While SGNP reopened for the general public on December 15, the zoo administration decided not to rush into reopening their campus for visitors then.
This is the first time since the Mission Begin Again that the zoo administration has submitted a proposal to BMC to reopen. The zoo has lost a significant amount of revenue during the lockdown. Between March and June 2019, the Byculla Zoo collected over Rs. 1.87 crore of revenue by selling entry tickets. Before the lockdown, during the peak season, the revenue collection of Byculla zoo roughly touched 4.5 to 5 lakh per month. However, revenue collected in 2020 up to March 15 is Rs.1.92 lakh.
A Byculla zoo official said, “The proposal is expected to be discussed and a decision is likely by Friday. The zoo will be reopened while following the COVID-19 norms with proper social distancing and sanitiser at several spots. A public address (PA) system will be in place for repeated announcements to avoid overcrowding in the zoo campus. The operational timings of the zoo will remain the same for the visitors between 9.30am and 6pm.”