We stood on a platform and looked at the woods. Beyond them was the city of Gangtok, and further ahead, we could see the snow-capped mountains. A small cabin up ahead and a wall partly visible between the pine trees was the only indication that we weren’t really in a forest, but a zoo – the Sikkim Himalayan Zoological Park in Gangtok.
Somewhere down there, was an Asiatic Black Bear, or so the board informed us. The bear however, was nowhere to be seen. Someone behind us muttered “What kind of a zoo is this, where we can’t even see the animals we came to see?” He might have been right, for we saw very few animals here, but for me, the vast enclosures, and having to search for the animals, was probably the best thing about this zoo!
|The Bear enclosure, minus the bear! But with a fantastic view of the mountains!|
The Gangtok Zoo is spread over 230 Hectares, on a hill, and the animals are housed in huge enclosures, in an attempt to provide them some semblance of a natural environment. This attempt is only partly successful, since most of the animals here are from even colder zones and higher altitudes. We visited the zoo on a winter afternoon, and found almost all the animals fast asleep, especially the felines. I have written about it here.
|The green cover in the zoo is beautiful! There is so much to see besides the animals!|
There is a 2.5Km long road winding its way along the various enclosures, leading to the top of the hill, where the prized inhabitant of the zoo is housed – the Snow Leopard. This one, like its friends, was fast asleep too!
|The snow leopard, fast asleep!|
There is a watch tower here which we can climb, to get a bird’s eye view of the entire zoo. We were, however so tired by the walk uphill that we didn’t even try!
|The watch tower|
Among the interesting animals we saw here was the Himalayan Palm Civet….
|Himalayan Palm Civet|
And a Bharal – Himalayan Blue Sheep…
The highlight of our visit though was the Red Panda… this one was busy walking around, entertaining the visitors…
While its companion slept peacefully on a tree, least bothered by all the sounds and calls.
And once again, this is what bothered me about the zoo. I appreciate the work which goes into establishing a zoo like this, with huge enclosures and a natural setting. However, a natural setting also means protecting the animals from the visitors. And this is where we seem to fail always, which is true even of this zoo.
There were quite a lot of visitors, including young adults, kids, couples, and grandparents. Across age groups, people shouted, laughed raucously, and even threw stones, in an attempt to wake the animals, and get them to approach the fence. When I stopped someone from throwing a stone, they simply laughed, and to my infinite disappointment, there wasn’t a single zoo official to do anything about it.
This is a beautiful zoo, one which can be so much better, with just a bit better management. When we know that as tourists or spectators, we have no discipline, or even regard for the animals we have come to see, it is up to the zoo to ensure that no one disturbs the animals. It is meant to be their home, after all.