Mumbai: Zoo authorities engage animals in activities amid pandemic
Abhishek Satam, Biologists, Byculla Zoo

With the Byculla Zoo shut for visitors since March 15, due to the outbreak of Novel Coronavirus pandemic, the zoo authorities that include veterinary doctors, biologists, keepers and other staff members are conducting different activities with the animals on a weekly basis to keep them busy. This is done so to ensure that these animals will familiarize with visitors once the zoo is reopened. The Zoo Director, Dr. Sanjay Tripathi said that the number of visitors will be kept limited in initial days after reopening.

Byculla Zoo houses tigers, leopards, hyenas, jackals and sloth bears amongst others. Before the lockdown was put in place, there was a daily footfall of around 10,000 people. Due to lockdown, the animals have lost touch with humans visiting them and have accustomed themselves to seeing lesser people. In a bid to stimulate their natural behaviour, the authorities arranged for food and enclosure enrichment activities for the zoo animals.

Dr Deepika Valsarajan, veterinary, Byculla Zoo said, "Food enrichment includes hiding their favourite meal so they can put some efforts to get it. For instance, monkeys like to have fruit ice cake, which is usually not served them every day. So when their favourite ice cake is served and kept at a secret place they chase to get it. Similarly, enclosure enrichment activity is held that includes putting a cardboard box or other prop in their cage. So when any new object/prop is in their cage they play with it, tear it, etc. This is how they are engaged in different activities."

Besides this, the keepers whom these animals know very well also carry out some activities like hiding outside their cage and in return the animals try to find them. They play 'hide and seek' from outside the cage, which is an exercise for the animals or otherwise due to no visitors in the zoo they may develop stereotypical behaviour (boredom). Zoo Veterinary doctors also regularly visit their enclosures and play with them, interact with them and take updates of their health condition, said Dr. Valsarajan.

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