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Review of Patan Central Zoo (a.k.a. Kathmandu Zoo)

Discussion in 'Nepal' started by Chris79, 14 Jan 2009.

  1. Chris79

    Chris79 Well-Known Member

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    I will shortly be posting a review of Nepal's only zoo, the Central Zoo. This has been labelled as Kathmandu Zoo on the forum, but in fact it lies in Patan, the neighbouring city.
     
  2. Chris79

    Chris79 Well-Known Member

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    On 3 January 2009 I visited the Central Zoo in the city of Patan, Nepal whilst on holiday. Patan is just a few kilometres from the capital Kathmandu, and the zoo is therefore known sometimes as Kathmandu Zoo. It is the only zoo in Nepal, a country with a population of 30 million, and hence fulfils an important role. Annual attendance is upwards of 800,000 and it was certainly very busy during the afternoon of my visit.

    The zoo is located on a small site in the west of Patan, around 1 mile from the central Durbar Square. The animal enclosures are arranged around the perimeter of a large boating lake which takes up a large proportion of the zoo’s area, as can be seen from the map. The arrangement is according to taxonomy, with mammals, birds, reptiles and fishes all occupying different parts of the site. The species exhibited are largely native to Nepal, Tibet or the Indian subcontinent, with a smattering of ‘exotics’. Other attractions include playground rides, picnic lawns and boat rides on the lake, all of which seemed to be more popular than the animals, despite the prevalence of litter.

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    Map of the zoo​


    The admission fee for adults was 35 Nepalese rupees for locals (£0.35) and 150 NR for foreigners (£1.50). For an additional fee, visitors can have an elephant ride, and if you have a spare 8,500 NR (£85), you can hire an elephant for the day.

    So, I decided to forgo the lure of my own personal pachyderm, and entered the zoo. Immediately in front of the zoo entrance is a circular fenced enclosure housing a pair of gharial. The male, a large specimen, had the bulbous cartilaginous growth on the tip of the snout which only comes with sexual maturity. The gharial had a shallow circular pool and a sandy bank on one side, but the other sides were bricked over.

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    Male and female gharial​
     
  3. Chris79

    Chris79 Well-Known Member

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    Working clockwise around the perimeter of the lake, the mammal enclosures were not pretty but at least had some logic to them. The first set of enclosures housed native deer and antelope. These included native species such as chital or axis deer, barking deer, barasingha and blackbuck. The sand or brick-lined floors would have suited the desert-dwelling blackbuck but neither the barking deer and chital of the lowland forests, nor the barasingha of the swamp. The barking deer shared their home with a pair of white-naped cranes. So far, so unspectacular.

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    White-naped crane​


    Moving on, a dark sleeping shape at the back of a clay-brick den I eventually identified as a striped hyena from the sign on the neighbouring unoccupied enclosure. Opposite and wrapping around one corner of the lake was a narrow, L-shaped enclosure housing a family of hippos; male, female and one juvenile. I’m not normally one to sentimentalise animals but these hippos looked about as forlorn as hippos can look. It’s a cruel kind of torment to place a semi-aquatic animal next to a large lake, and deny it access! Instead the hippos had a small, deep pool of their own. A gated wall across the centre of the enclosure prevented them from accessing it. Meanwhile a hose dribbled water into the three-quarters empty pool – it would be a long wait for a bath.

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    Hippo enclosure​


    A fenced enclosure in the far corner was drawing a small crowd. It contained two peacocks, both in poor condition. Their neighbours, a trio of dark kites, were almost totally ignored, perhaps because these birds are so common in the skies over Kathmandu. On the other side of the peacocks was a pair of Himalayan monal.

    Signs pointed us towards the tigers and monkeys nearby. The primates turned out to be a trio of Hanuman langurs, one of the two species of monkey native to Nepal. Their enclosure had logs for climbing but almost no privacy. (The other species, the Rhesus macaque, is also kept at the zoo). The Bengal tigers were housed in two separate enclosures side-by-side, with an elevated walkway providing views from one side. The zoo keeps a female and her two sub-adult male cubs. It is seeking to bring a new female, currently incarcerated at Chitwan National Park, to mate with one of the cubs. The tigers have probably the most impressive enclosure in the zoo, with plenty of undergrowth for cover and access to water, but it would be judged merely adequate by international zoo standards. The crowds here were huge.
     
  4. Chris79

    Chris79 Well-Known Member

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    Opposite the tigers, another reasonably impressive enclosure housed a pair of Indian rhinos (which are of course found in Nepal too). The zoo is trying to mate them but without success yet. Of the Asian elephants, which are kept right at the back of the zoo, there was no sign. Perhaps they had been hired out for the day. Their enclosure was nothing more than a glorified stable, but this is how working elephants are kept at Chitwan too.

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    Indian rhino​


    The next set of enclosures was utterly depressing and amongst the worst I’ve ever seen in a zoo. Of course, I’m not naïve enough to visit a zoo in a third-world country expecting to be bowled over, but it’s nevertheless disheartening when one’s worst fears are realised. Predictably, it was the cats and bears that got the short straw. A highly-stressed leopard cub trapped in a mesh-fronted concrete prison, no more than six feet square. An Indian family next to me decided to throw it a packet of biscuits. A clouded leopard next door with not much more room, asleep on a shelf. And then a cage housing three pacing leopards, an adult (female, I presume) and two young. I could have stuck my hand straight through the mesh (but of course, I didn’t). The bear cages looks like it has been transplanted from London Zoo in the 1850s. A lone Asiatic black bear was inside, swaying and pacing, clearly bored and distressed. I was relieved to find the neighbouring cages empty. Small cats (leopard cat and Asian fishing cat), jackals and nilgai round out the mammal collection.

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    Nilgai enclosure​
     
  5. Chris79

    Chris79 Well-Known Member

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    The majority of the bird collection is kept on the north side of the zoo in a collection of aviaries arranged around a parkland area. At least, it would have looked like a parkland without the mountains of litter strewn everywhere (bins were provided). Civic pride doesn’t really exist in Nepal – but on the other hand, this is a country which held its first democratic elections only last year.

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    White pelicans​


    The pride of the bird collection is the pheasants, of which there are numerous kinds: Lady Amherst’s pheasant, golden pheasant, silver pheasant, chukar, kalij pheasant, satyr tragopan and more Himalayan monal. Surprisingly, there were no blood pheasants, a relatively common species in Nepal. The highlight for me was a large, high, well-constructed aviary housing an eclectic variety of species: sulphur-crested cockatoos, spoonbills, Oriental pied hornbills, king vultures and black-necked storks amongst them. Also kept here were sarus cranes and lesser adjutants in pairs, and a female ostrich.

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    New aviary​


    The small reptile collection featured a common cobra, an Indian rock python and a nameless turtle. The fishes were displayed in several decent-sized tanks kept outside under a corrugated tin-roofed shelter. The public were kept at least six feet from the tanks by a sturdy barrier, a strange contrast to the leopard cage where I could freely put my fingers through the mesh!
     
  6. Chris79

    Chris79 Well-Known Member

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    In summary, the Central Zoo wasn’t a totally dispiriting experience but there is a clear gulf between this kind of establishment and an average Western zoo. In a country as poor as Nepal, it’s perhaps inevitable that the welfare of captive animals isn’t the highest of priorities, but that doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. The zoo needs funds to improve the standard of its exhibits and it needs improved training for keepers (I didn’t see a single member of zoo staff beyond the ticket barrier, apart from people giving boat trips). There are signs that given the resources, the zoo could really improve. The enclosures for Bengal tigers, Indian rhinos and the large new aviary in the north-east corner are certainly more than adequate - I make no statement about off-show facilities, since I couldn’t inspect them - and indeed would surpass examples from some Western zoos. It is also to be applauded for concentrating on mainly native wildlife, and for the quality of the signage and information for visitors.

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    Macaque cage​


    Nepal may be a poor nation but it is rich in natural resources, with a large diversity of habitats and iconic species such as the tiger, snow leopard and Indian rhino. It’s important that the zoo concentrates its efforts on promoting respect for wildlife and a caring attitude for the natural world, and to spread this message effectively it needs to urgently improve some of the presently awful living conditions of its animals.

    Here endeth my review, hope you enjoyed it! :)
     
  7. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Fabulous, completely informative review Chris! I applaud you for taking the time to post such a comprehensive account of your time at the only zoo in Nepal, and it certainly sounds as if there is quite the mix of exhibitry for all to see. Reading about the big cat enclosures was sad, but at least the tigers have a great enclosure. Zoos that are not part of the western world are rarely above of decent quality, which is something that will gradually change as years go by. Unfortunately, it will be still many decades for the bulk of zoo enclosures to become modernized, and by then the western world will have taken the next step towards even more amazing habitats.
     
  8. Hix

    Hix Wildlife Enthusiast and Lover of Islands

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    Great review Chris.

    I'm also impressed with the objective approach you took, and your final comments.

    :)

    Hix
     
  9. Chris79

    Chris79 Well-Known Member

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    Thank you both for the kind comments. It wasn't an easy decision to visit the zoo in the first place, since I knew that it wasn't likely to be a pleasant experience. My wife was even less persuaded and probably found it harder to stomach than I did.

    In the end, I justified my visit with the thought that at least I could report my findings here, since I know that a number of zoo professionals and influential people browse and contribute to these fora. From what I could see, the Central Zoo badly needed funds to improve its enclosures and the benefit of training in animal welfare and husbandry techniques, and both of these could be provided by willing organisations from the international zoo community.
     
  10. Animal Nepal

    Animal Nepal New Member

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    Visiting the Central Zoo of Nepal can indeed be a depressing experiencing. The Animal Welfare Network Nepal presently conducts a survey of the Central Zoo in Nepal. The outcomes have shocked the researchers. We knew the zoo had problems but we did not expect the outcomes to be this bad.

    The inner city Central Zoo was build as a private zoo by late Prime Minister Juddha Shumsher in 1932. Some of the enclosures date back to this time.

    The fate of the bear species is the worst, in our view. However, species such as rhesus monkeys, small mammals such as wild cat, jackal and clouded leopard and different bird species are extremely stressed and show abnormal behaviour due to inhumane conditions.

    AWNN uses check sheets developed by WSPA and ACRES. Many enclosures fail automatically because the enclosures are totally barren, prevent normal movement and/or consist of cement flooring only.

    The zoo houses some 780 species including the critically endangers white-rumped vulture and Chinese alligator and six endangered species: Asian elephant, royal bengal tiger, one horned rhino, wild buffalo, gharial and yellow headed turtle.

    In the absence of a wildlife rehabilitation center or orphanage, the zoo, despite severe space constraints, has been forced to accept rescued wildlife from across the country, including large mammals.

    In 2009 the zoo witnessed an alarming death rate. 191 animals died, including Himalayan Black Bear and Sloth Bears. The zoo each year greets over 1 million visitors, the majority of them school children.

    According to AWNN the only solution to the zoo's many problems is to create a new zoo outside the city. The present zoo can be transformed into an educational park with farm animals. The government announced the establishment of an 'international standard zoo' in 2008 but little progress has been made.

    The Zoo Check is coordinated by researcher Mahesh Sharma and AWNN General Secretary Lucia de Vries. The final report will be presented this Fall. For more information email us at [email protected]
     
  11. jwer

    jwer Well-Known Member

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    funny to read all this. I visited Kathmandu Zoo in 2009 and wasn't that shocked at all. I expected it to be (very) bad, but in the end only a few enclosures were shocking. The bears and clouded leopards are in really bad conditions. Their cages are bare, shockingly small and are not suitable. The rest of the zoo was OK. The hippo's are in a barren enclosure, with not the largest pool, but nothing worse then MANY european zoos (the picture shows only the much smaller side-pen).

    Many deer are on concrete or cobblestones, which isn't all that great but perhaps better then standing in mud all day. The tigers and indian rhinos, as well as most bird species are in pretty decent enclosures, and most if not all animals seemed to be in good health.

    There's a lot of improvement to be made, but i feel that many Asians (people in the street as well as zoopeople) think that European Zoos are ALL much better, but they are not (i'm afraid).

    Good report though, best species by far for me was the black-headed stork, massive and impressive animals.