Mumbai: Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan and Zoo at Byculla have been attracting a steady stream of visitors thanks to its unique attractions, including penguins, royal Bengal tigers, the biggest walk-through aviary, and an underwater crocodile enclosure. However, for the past eight years, the park has been missing the most majestic of wildlife species - a lion. After Jimmy, an African-Asiatic hybrid lioness, at the facility passed away in 2014, the zoo authorities have been struggling to get a replacement.
Lion enclosure ready for 2 years
Byculla zoo has been undergoing upgrades and renovations for the past few years. In February 2020, a pair of Bengal tigers, Shakti and Karishma, were brought from Aurangabad. A pair of leopards were also brought from Nagpur’s Gorewada Zoo in 2022. The lion enclosure has been ready for more than two years. But, the BMC’s hunt for the king of the zoo has failed despite two years of relentless efforts.
Last year, the BMC started the process of bringing two pairs of lions from Junagadh and Indore in exchange for zebras. The zebras were to be brought from Ramat Gan Safari Park in Tel Aviv, Israel. However, the plan failed after the Directorate General of Foreign Trades (DGFT) rejected the proposal since Israel is not on the updated list of the ‘World Organisation for Animal Health', in July 2022. The civic body has also not received any positive response from international zoos in America and Europe, said sources from the zoo.
'Wait for lion will be longer'
The zoo authorities had also sent a proposal to Kevadia Baug Zoo in Gujarat and the zoo in Hyderabad to get two pairs of lions in exchange for penguins in August. "We have not yet received any response from the zoo; maintenance costs for the penguins are high, and the other zoos might also not have the facilities required for them. So, the wait for the lion will be longer," said a senior civic official. No new animals have been procured in the last one and a half years, confirmed zoo sources.
The Byculla zoo, built in 1861 as a botanical garden, is home to around 335 animals: birds, reptiles, monkeys, crocodiles, an elephant, deer, a hippopotamus, penguins, and birds.